As Shahla Talebi prepared her undergraduate honors thesis at the University of California, Berkeley, she realized she could draw much of what she needed from personal experience. The topic of that thesis? Madness and death in prison.
Talebi spent a total of 10 years in Iranian prison – from 1977 to 1978 and from 1983 to 1992 – first for reading banned books and dissident authors, later for helping women become literate, find resources for domestic violence and learn to use contraceptives. Despite the positive response to her thesis (it was selected by the school as the best anthropology thesis of 1999), Talebi wondered if she should write a full book on the subject. She worried about the safety of loved ones still in Iran and whether a book could create more conflict – even as the idea of writing it consumed her.
“Something was kind of imposed on me without me having thought about it,” she says.
Eventually, she decided the stories needed to be told. Not quite a memoir, not quite historical nonfiction, Ghosts of Revolution: Rekindled Memories of Imprisonment in Iran ($24, Stanford University Press) is not a story of atrocities, Talebi says, but of hope. “At the end of the day,” she says, “love touches our hearts.”
The book is currently available at Changing Hands in Tempe or at sup.org.