Houshang Asadi: "Letters to My Torturer" - A Review
By Daniel Holler, ISHR/IGFM
Houshang Asadi, a political activist against the Shahs regime, was imprisoned for the first time at the beginning of the 1970s. As a supporter of the Islamic Revolution and a cellmate of Ayatollah Khamenei, he initially deemed his imprisonment a mistake, a misunderstanding. But he was wrong.
After many years in prison - both under the Shah and, after the revolution, under Khomeini - as well as a death sentence, he wrote the book "Letters to My Torturer" in French exile. The book looks back on Asads extraordinary and extremely painful experiences in Irans most infamous prisons. Asadi was denied his right to exist as a human being: he was forced to bark like a dog, to eat his own excrement, and to endure the worst physical and psychological torture. His torturer, "Brother Hamid," reigned over life and death.
Through Brother Hamids greetings and niceties, the deceitful nature of the chosen torture techniques becomes especially clear. Asadi writes of his torturer: "Little Lion... your voice has become gentle again." Such alternating usage of kindness and harshness makes the prisoners situation seem unbearable. The book, in which every chapter is written as a letter, describes in poignant and dramatic words Asadi’s feelings - both in the present, during the books writing, and in the past, when he was forced to actively experience them. Whether it was sharing a cell with today’s Ayatollah Ali Khameini, Mehdi Karroubi or assorted regime opponents (or even spending 682 days in solitary confinement), Asadi describes the scenes clearly, yet without being overly dramatic or pitiful. He describes his suffering relatively soberly. Asadi, a former member of the Iranian communist Tudeh Party, who was accused of spying for Russia as well as for England, underwent two heart attacks while writing down his experiences. The insanity of revealing "confessions" while under torture is clearly described - after the lessons of such a book, who can still really believe in the logic of such treatment and the "findings" extracted from it?
The writing style is especially effective: letters to his former torturer Brother Hamid, all of which begin with a small foreword in cursive script. In this way, the book is easy to read - and this is important for such a difficult and emotional subject. The reader must have the possibility to pause and reflect, just so he can avoid immersing himself too deeply into the dark pages of Iran.
At the end of the book, the reader comes to understand how a man can experience such horrible circumstances and survive them, both physically and mentally, without perishing. During the Annual Meeting of the ISHR/IGFM, I had the honour to meet and interview Mr. Houshang Asadi. Mr. Asadi is an extremely kind man, with a bright twinkle in his eyes and a determination to enjoy life.
Because of the harsh but overwhelming reality that political dissenters are still arbitrarily imprisoned, this book holds highly valuable information.
A final thing must be noted: the inclusion of a number of end notes interrupts the interested readers flow. These may disturb some readers; however, I consider them a good opportunity to leave the horrors of Mr. Asadis daily life in prison for a short moment and to take a deep breath before diving into the topic again.
This book is warmly recommended to anyone interested in this topic. It is hoped that the publisher will soon bring a German translation to the market, so that German readers can also enjoy this book.