Nemat, Marina 1966–

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Nemat, Marina 1966–


Born 1966, in Iran; married Andre Nemat (an engineer); children: Michael, Thomas. Education: Attended University of Toronto.


Home—Aurora, Ontario, Canada.


Writer. University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, research assistant.


Prisoner of Tehran: A Memoir, Free Press (New York, NY), 2007.

Coauthor of screenplay for a television movie of Prisoner of Tehran, to be filmed by Tiger Aspect Productions.


Marina Nemat tells the harrowing story of her imprisonment and torture in Iran in the early 1980s in Prisoner of Tehran: A Memoir. Nemat grew up in a middle-class family in Tehran; her father was a dance instructor, her mother a hairstylist. The family's lineage was Russian as well as Iranian, their religious practices a mix of Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christian. Marina was a bright and outspoken student who aspired to be a doctor. Her situation changed greatly, however, after 1979, when Islamic revolutionaries deposed Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and began purging the nation of anything they considered Western and therefore anti-Islam.

For instance, most of the teachers at Marina's high school were fired and replaced by members of the Revolutionary Guard. In 1980, Marina led a student strike because the new faculty, she said, was teaching propaganda about the revolution instead of academic subjects. The strike ended after three days, but she also founded a school newspaper to voice her objections to the government's repressive policies. Authorities began arresting people who openly opposed the regime, and on January 15, 1982, when she was sixteen years old, Marina became one of the arrestees. She was separated from her family and from her boyfriend, Andre Nemat, and taken to a prison called Evin, which once housed the shah's political foes and now was reserved for critics of the revolution. Inmates were tortured and often sexually assaulted, with many of them ultimately executed.

At Evin, as she recounts in the book, Marina's bare feet were beaten with cables, and she was placed before a firing squad. A prison guard and interrogator, Ali, rescued her at the last minute and had her death sentence commuted, but the condition was marriage to him and conversion to Islam. It was clear that any attempt to escape him would mean death for her family and her boyfriend Andre. After the marriage, Marina remained a prisoner, Ali a guard; they spent his on-duty nights together at Evin, his off-duty ones clandestinely at his home. Although their sexual relations amounted to rape, she came to care about Ali and his family, as his parents were kind and affectionate to her; her memoir discusses the complexities of this situation. Eventually Ali became disillusioned with the revolution and his work, and he decided to quit his job at the prison. This decision made him enemies and led to his murder. Marina, pregnant at the time, witnessed this event and suffered a miscarriage. Ali's father, asked by his dying son to help free Marina, used his ties to Iran's leaders to get her released from Evin in 1984. She subsequently married Andre and immigrated with him to Canada.

It took years for Marina to be emotionally ready to tell Andre all that had happened to her, but after she did, she was motivated to reveal her story—and that of her fellow prisoners—to the world. ‘It is first and foremost my experience, but it is also the collective experience of a generation of teenage girls and young women, which the government of Iran has succeeded in erasing from history,’ she explained to London Telegraph reviewer Tim Bouquet. She told another reporter, Leigh Anne Williams, in an interview for the magazine Quill & Quire: ‘All the books that I have read about Iran hardly mention the experience of the political prisoners. They are about Iran, but not about this generation, so I really felt that gap."

In filling that gap, Nemat has chronicled events of great historical significance, according to several reviewers. She provides ‘a voice for the untold scores silenced by Iran's revolution,’ a Publishers Weekly critic observed. Entertainment Weekly contributor Missy Schwartz praised Nemat's tale as ‘extraordinary’ and her writing as ‘simple’ and ‘unsentimental.’ In a similar vein, a Kirkus Reviews commentator cited her ‘spare, moving prose devoid of self-pity.’ New Statesman reviewer Mary Fitzgerald had a different opinion of Nemat's writing style, calling her storytelling ‘often cliched and overwrought.’ Still, Fitzgerald remarked, her story is ‘an important one."

Brian Bethune, writing in Maclean's, voiced no reservations, calling Nemat's memoir ‘one of the finest ever written by a Canadian.’ He continued: ‘The memoir's brilliance and grace lie more in its intimate scale, in the way it deals with the burden of memory, the need to bear witness and the strange byways of the human heart,’ and he summed it up as ‘simply an astonishing story.’ Toronto Globe and Mail critic Linda Spalding likewise offered compliments, deeming Nemat's prose ‘well wrought and heartfelt’ and her book ‘an act of bravery … as well as compassion."



Nemat, Marina, Prisoner of Tehran: A Memoir, Free Press (New York, NY), 2007.


Entertainment Weekly, May 18, 2007, Missy Schwartz, review of Prisoner of Tehran, p. 70.

Globe and Mail (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), May 19, 2007, Linda Spalding, ‘Tehran and Sympathy,’ p. D11.

Kirkus Reviews, March 1, 2007, review of Prisoner of Tehran, p. 211.

Maclean's, May 28, 2007, Brian Bethune, ‘Once upon a Time in Evin: One Woman's Account of Her Years in Iran's Most Infamous Jail,’ p. 24.

National Post, July 14, 2007, Eva Tihanyi, review of Prisoner of Tehran, p. 9.

New Statesman, July 23, 2007, Mary Fitzgerald, ‘Memory of Things Past,’ p. 61.

Publishers Weekly, March 26, 2007, review of Prisoner of Tehran, p. 81.

Quill & Quire, May, 2007, Leigh Anne Williams, ‘A Story of Iran, Written in Canada."

Reference & Research Book News, August, 2007, review of Prisoner of Tehran.

Telegraph (London, England), April 21, 2007, Tim Bouquet, ‘Pact with the Devil."