Cover image for Prisoner : my 544 days in an Iranian prison--solitary confinement, a sham trial, high-stakes diplomacy, and the extraordinary efforts it took to get me out
Title:
Prisoner : my 544 days in an Iranian prison--solitary confinement, a sham trial, high-stakes diplomacy, and the extraordinary efforts it took to get me out
Edition:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York, NY : Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, [2019]

©2019
ISBN:
9780062691576
Physical Description:
311 pages ; 24 cm
Language:
English
General Note:
An Anthony Bourdain Book.
Abstract:
In July 2014, Washington Post Tehran bureau chief Jason Rezaian was arrested by Iranian police, accused of spying for America. The charges were absurd. Rezaian's reporting was a mix of human interest stories and political analysis. He had even served as a guide for Anthony Bourdain's Parts Unknown. Initially, Rezaian thought the whole thing was a terrible misunderstanding, but soon realized that it was much more dire as it became an eighteen-month prison stint with impossibly high diplomatic stakes. While in prison, Rezaian had tireless advocates working on his behalf. His brother lobbied political heavyweights including John Kerry and Barack Obama and started a social media campaign--#FreeJason--while Jason's wife navigated the red tape of the Iranian security apparatus, all while the courts used Rezaian as a bargaining chip in negotiations for the Iran nuclear deal. In Prisoner, Rezaian writes of his exhausting interrogations and farcical trial. He also reflects on his idyllic childhood in Northern California and his bond with his Iranian father, a rug merchant; how his teacher Christopher Hitchens inspired him to pursue journalism; and his life-changing decision to move to Tehran, where his career took off and he met his wife. Written with wit, humor, and grace, Prisoner brings to life a fascinating, maddening culture in all its complexity.
Personal Subject:
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Book 070.92 REZAIAN 1
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Book BIOGRAPHY REZAIAN JASON 1 .SOURCE. BAKER & TAYLOR
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Summary

Summary

"An important story. Harrowing, and suspenseful, yes--but it's also a deep dive into a complex and egregiously misunderstood country with two very different faces. There is no better time to know more about Iran--and Jason Rezaian has seen both of those faces."

-- Anthony Bourdain

The dramatic memoir of the journalist who was held hostage in a high-security prison in Tehran for eighteen months and whose release--which almost didn't happen--became a part of the Iran nuclear deal

In July 2014, Washington Post Tehran bureau chief Jason Rezaian was arrested by Iranian police, accused of spying for America. The charges were absurd. Rezaian's reporting was a mix of human interest stories and political analysis. He had even served as a guide for Anthony Bourdain's Parts Unknown. Initially, Rezaian thought the whole thing was a terrible misunderstanding, but soon realized that it was much more dire as it became an eighteen-month prison stint with impossibly high diplomatic stakes.

While in prison, Rezaian had tireless advocates working on his behalf. His brother lobbied political heavyweights including John Kerry and Barack Obama and started a social media campaign--#FreeJason--while Jason's wife navigated the red tape of the Iranian security apparatus, all while the courts used Rezaian as a bargaining chip in negotiations for the Iran nuclear deal.

In Prisoner, Rezaian writes of his exhausting interrogations and farcical trial. He also reflects on his idyllic childhood in Northern California and his bond with his Iranian father, a rug merchant; how his teacher Christopher Hitchens inspired him to pursue journalism; and his life-changing decision to move to Tehran, where his career took off and he met his wife. Written with wit, humor, and grace, Prisoner brings to life a fascinating, maddening culture in all its complexity.

"Jason paid a deep price in defense of journalism and his story proves that not everyone who defends freedom carries a gun, some carry a pen."

--John F. Kerry, 68th Secretary of State


Reviews 5

Publisher's Weekly Review

Washington Post Tehran bureau chief Rezaian recounts his 18-month imprisonment in a powerful memoir that underscores the complicated relationship between the U.S. and Iran. In 2014, Rezaian, a dual citizen of the U.S. and Iran, was captured with his wife in Tehran and accused of espionage. The agents lacked evidence, so they drew farcical connections everywhere, treating, for instance, a joke Kickstarter campaign that he created to fund an avocado farm in Iran as a coded message. His understanding of Iranian culture allowed Rezaian to parry his jail guards with humor and earn privileges such as conjugal visits with his wife. Rezaian faced relentless interrogation that gives insight into Iran's paranoia regarding the U.S.; his captors attributed sinister intentions to even positive stories he wrote about the country ("by improving this image America would somehow infiltrate the Iranian system... in the process gutting Iran of its revolutionary ideals"). Little news reached him during his time in captivity, except for when boxer Muhammad Ali publicly denounced Rezaian's imprisonment; Rezaian notes how this action resonated with Iranians, who generally admire Ali. Secret negotiations eventually led to his release, and he returned home a minor celebrity, congratulated by billionaires such as Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos as well as panhandlers, who he believed were brothers of the Nation of Islam and who embraced him and greeted him in Arabic. Rezaian's conversational prose makes this a fast and intense narrative. (Jan.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.


Kirkus Review

Washington Post opinion writer and CNN contributor Rezaian recounts his 544 days of imprisonment at the hands of the Iranian regime.A native of Iran whose family had immigrated to the United States decades earlier, the author moved to Tehran to head the Washington Post bureau there. It was a good gig, well paid in dollars, while, because his wife was an Iranian citizen, they were allowed to pay in local currency. "Life was good," he writes. Although he favored local-color stories, often about food, and guided Anthony Bourdain through the city for an episode of Parts Unknown (this book is published under Bourdain's imprint), he still managed to fall afoul of the secret police. The charge eventually cooked up for him was definitively Orwellian: "As a member of the American press writing what could only be perceived as neutral stories about Iran, I was attempting to soften American public opinion toward the Islamic Republic"a softening that would allow American values to circulate within the country. After developing strategies to avoid despair while in solitary confinement ("if you're lucky you learn to quiet your mind, just a little, and live softly"), Rezaian could do little more than wait it out even as Iranian agents threatened to add time to his sentence because his mother was publicly protesting his imprisonment. "Why is your mother coordinating with the BBC to ruin your life?" asked one. The author credits a concerted campaign on the part of Post editor Martin Baron, his brother, and other intermediaries for his release after having been "the plaything of some of the nastiest authoritarian ideologues to roam the earth in many decades." Rezaian also allows that one of his captors got at least one thing right: He correctly predicted the outcome of the 2016 election in the U.S., saying, "Trump is the candidate that hates Muslims most."Of interest to students of the Iranian system as well as free-press advocates. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.


Booklist Review

As the Washington Post's Tehran bureau chief, Rezaian was almost evangelical in his desire to portray Iran as something other than a clichéd image of brutal authoritarianism. His human-interest stories, many focusing on food and culture, invited the world to view the country he loved as much as his native America in a new, more ecumenical light. The irony, then, that Rezaian would be arrested along with his journalist wife on espionage charges only served to underscore the harsh truth behind the image of a politically repressed society. After being imprisoned for 18 months, Rezaian's release became tied to the Obama administration's nuclear deal with Iran and attracted advocates from John Kerry to Anthony Bourdain. Rezaian's candid and revelatory memoir of his incarceration is interlaced with touching tributes to his Iranian-born father, his journalistic mentor, Christopher Hitchens, and his beloved wife, Yeganeh. At a time when journalists find themselves increasingly under fire, both abroad and at home, Rezaian's dedication to his craft is an inspiring homage to the fearlessness of these intrepid purveyors of truth.--Carol Haggas Copyright 2018 Booklist


New York Review of Books Review

BEFORE THE IRANIAN GOVERNMENT arrested him as a spy, Jason Rezaian made a terrific Tehran bureau chief for The Washington Post. No one in Iran was as qualified as he, and possibly nobody outside Iran could have gotten the requisite journalist visa. Rezaian was born and raised in Marin County, Calif., to an Iranian father and an American mother, his family maintained business as well as family ties to the old country and he's a dual national IranianAmerican citizen, as familiar with and connected to each country as almost anyone else in the world. He also has an Iranian wife. In an on-camera interview for CNN's travel and food show, "Parts Unknown," he told Anthony Bourdain that he both loved and hated Iran, "but it's home." The authorities tossed him into the notorious Evin Prison before the episode even aired. Fitting then that he is being published by Anthony Bourdain Books. "Prisoner" is more than just a memoir that reads like a thriller. It's also an intimate family history, an anguished love letter to an ancient and broken homeland, and a spirited defense of journalism and truth at a time when both are under attack almost everywhere. Ostensibly, Rezaian's crime was espionage, but the "evidence" against him didn't even rise to the level of specious. He started a half-joking Kickstarter campaign to crowdfund an avocado farm in Iran, wrote a brief story about an Iranian-made video clip for Pharrell Williams's song "Happy" and kept a messy inbox. Conspiracy theorists normally try to find better evidence, but his accusers, he writes, were "the most hardheaded and least sophisticated people I had ever encountered," with the intellectual and emotional maturity of second graders. Rezaian's captors didn't physically torture him, but they held him in solitary confinement with a light that never turned off and threatened to cut off his arms and legs. His ludicrous show trial ended the only way it could have in a courtroom with the word "revolutionary" in its name - with a conviction for crimes that made no sense. Rezaian was no spy. He was a hostage, taken in the early days of the high-stakes negotiations over Iran's nuclear program and released upon their conclusion. Everyone knew he was innocent, especially the Iranian authorities. At one point, Rezaian paraphrases the charges against him: "We've got no actual case against you, need to come up with something plausible, can't and have no exit strategy." At the same time, they nearly convinced themselves not that he was a spy in the usual sense but that he was guilty of crimes no less sinister. They were genuinely shocked and appalled at Rezaian's behavior, not for wanting to grow California avocados in Iran but for working as a journalist unshackled from control of the state. Anything he wrote - and all of it was uncensored - could land on the desk of the president of the United States. "Describing in plain English the various elements of the Islamic Republic's ethos" was intolerable to his jailers. "If you can't own it, control it or understand it you must destroy it," he writes. "That was the attitude I found myself up against." His hope to cultivate human bonds between his two peoples, Americans and Iranians, was a second damning strike. Worst of all was his avowed belief in political liberalism. "My personal hope was that Iran would someday become an open society," he writes. "But to my captors this was my biggest crime." When they finally freed him, they banned him for life. Few serious books about the Middle East end on a moment of optimism, and "Prisoner" is a serious book. As both American and Iranian, Rezaian truly believed he could live in and between his two home countries. But he can't. Not now. Michael J. totten is the author of eight books, including "Where the West Ends" and "Tower of the Sun."


Library Journal Review

It was a risk-taking spirit that compelled Iranian American journalist Rezaian to travel to Iran to cover local politics, culture, and food for the Washington Post. This decision changed his life in many ways, including his meeting future wife Yegi. After being married a little more than a year, the couple decided to leave Iran for the United States. In July 2014, they were set to depart in a few days' time, when they were arrested. Here, Rezaian records the grueling 544 days he spent in Tehran's Evin Prison, with Yegi incarcerated for some of that time as well. He recounts the disorienting and desolate experience of solitary confinement for several months, when he came to look forward to interrogations as his sole form of human contact. Throughout this ordeal, Rezaian's sharp, sarcastic wit helped keep him sane by allowing him to maintain perspective as he faced increasingly strange allegations. VERDICT Rezaian balances and depicts well his love/hate relationship with the former homeland of his father. His unique experience and determined personality will inspire admiration for his hard-won battle. [See Prepub Alert, 7/30/18.]-Stacy Shaw, Denver © Copyright 2019. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.