Out­sider strug­gles to sur­vive un­der a brutish regime

I Con­fess: Rev­e­la­tions in Ex­ile

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books - Alan Gold

By Koosh­yar Karimi Wild Dingo Press, 370pp, $32.95

IN a world over­whelmed by an es­ti­mated 42 mil­lion refugees, it’s of­ten the story of an in­di­vid­ual’s strug­gle against bar­bar­ity that brings home the hor­rors suf­fered by peo­ple in lands less for­tu­nate than Aus­tralia.

I Con­fess, a mem­oir by Koosh­yar Karimi, an Ira­nian-Jewish doc­tor who now lives in Aus­tralia, is a stark and re­veal­ing ac­count of how a regime run by fren­zied zealots can de­hu­man­ise its ci­ti­zens.

For years, Karimi was forced to spy for the Iran of the ay­a­tol­lahs as a way of sav­ing his own life and the lives of those he loved. This beau­ti­ful book is an atone­ment for those he was forced to be­tray. Iran, he tells us, was a world akin to Or­well’s Nine­teen Eighty-Four, a na­tion with spies and in­form­ers ev­ery­where, where many ci­ti­zens led a dou­ble life. It was a na­tion where Big Brother, the supreme leader Ay­a­tol­lah Khome­ini, whom Karimi de­scribes as ‘‘ an evil old man with the in­tel­li­gence of a house-brick’’, had a claus­tro­pho­bic grasp of ev­ery as­pect of life.

Bad enough for or­di­nary ci­ti­zens, it was es­pe­cially dan­ger­ous for Karimi, who was a Jew, a doc­tor who il­le­gally per­formed abor­tions on des­per­ate young women who’d been raped, and a spy. He de­scribes life in Iran as feel­ing ‘‘ like you are a ca­nary in a room full of cats . . . you live in anx­i­ety all the time’’.

Karimi’s process of self-dis­cov­ery in postKhome­ini Iran was trig­gered when his mother in­ad­ver­tently told him he was a Jew, some­thing that set him apart from the rest of the Mus­lim cit­i­zenry and shaped his per­son­al­ity. And be­cause of his faith, in 1998 he was kid­napped on the street, blind­folded and tor­tured. His re­lease and sal­va­tion was pred­i­cated on his agree­ment to spy for a regime that he hated with all his heart.

I Con­fess is a book full of wis­dom, wit and beauty, which in some way di­lutes the ut­ter hor­ror of what Karimi and his fam­ily suf­fered. But the cast of real-life characters who in­habit the book could have been the proud in­ven­tion of a Hol­ly­wood scriptwriter.

There’s Karimi’s mother, Homa, im­pover- ished and hav­ing to live on her wits to sur­vive and pro­vide for her chil­dren; his Mus­lim bus­driver fa­ther, who fails to tell Homa that he al­ready has two wives; there’s Dr Va­hedi, a thor­oughly de­cent Ira­nian physi­cian who risks his safety to en­sure the bril­liant Karimi is al­lowed to get into a univer­sity to study medicine de­spite be­ing Jewish; and fi­nally the en­tire boor­ish, oafish Ira­nian se­cret ser­vice. And po­si­tioned high above a ship of state crewed by a dramatis per­sonae who are mad, bad and dan­ger­ous to know, looms a co­terie of Tolkien fig­ures, the ay­a­tol­lahs and mul­lahs who are nav­i­gat­ing Iran from a mod­ern na­tion back­wards into a bi­b­li­cal theoc­racy.

Our in­tro­duc­tion to Karimi be­gins at the moment of his birth. It is snow­ing on the night he was born, his 17-year-old mother lies alone

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