I was really excited to read this book to gain some grounded perspective on Iran and Iranian culture as experienced by its people, including people of...moreI was really excited to read this book to gain some grounded perspective on Iran and Iranian culture as experienced by its people, including people of Iranian heritage in the US. I say "grounded" because while the journalistic and politics-focused books do important work for informing people about Iran (if you choose well-documented sources of course), and while everyone always says "but the people must be separated from the government" and so on, here is an example of a book that focuses on people and only touches on the government as it impacted those people--this is a social science book. The author's agenda is to inform readers on the profound changes and struggles that Iranian Jewish women have faced over the last century, interfacing between themselves and their culture, their culture and the dominant culture, as well as with the other generations of women. Additionally, I think the author's goal is to create a touchstone for her community, and is speaking to her community in a way, as it undergoes yet more change. Being raised in the LA Iranian Jewish community herself, the author used her insider-outsider location in her methodology (interviews) to present what few others are in a position to. We read these women's words on topics including religiosity and assimilation, gender expectations and social relations. The women's words themselves are the most fascinating, especially regarding impressions of Iranian Muslim women, but Soomekh's contextualization is of course important, though at times repetitive. I found that as I got further in, much of the information was reiterated unnecessarily--for example, explaining a quote that was already quite clear--but the repetitiveness wasn't enough to turn me off. It reads like a long academic paper, but not an impenetrable treatise like some other academic works, and it is very accessible. (less)
Reviewed for the Portland Book Review. It’s not uncommon to see portrayals or stories of torture on news and TV programs, but an examination or reflec...moreReviewed for the Portland Book Review. It’s not uncommon to see portrayals or stories of torture on news and TV programs, but an examination or reflection on torture is more rare. The topic is either viewed as a bygone consideration or a foregone conclusion due to exceptional historical circumstances or solitary people, yet Francois Bizot has written Facing the Torturer to call to mind the very near, human missteps and configurations that underpin torture. Bizot describes that while imprisoned by the Khmer Rouge under Comrade Duch, he acted differently and was viewed differently than other prisoners; it is now Bizot’s endeavor to instigate a different view and show that “the butcher of Tuol Sleng” and our shared humanity with him needs broader scrutiny if we care at all about preventing torture. His book is recounted mostly in an impressionistic and anecdotal fashion, dropping graphic details and emotions along the way. Only towards the end of the book does “objective” court testimony and post-Khmer Rouge encounters with Duch appear and bring welcome grounding of the subject, but it is the mythic language that provides equal lucidity. Francois Bizot provides an authentic account of the process of "facing the torturer" which follows its own pace.
Some of my favorite passages in the book had to do with writing, language, and translation, which I did not expect in this book but were beautiful words. As I wrote, the book to me was mainly impressionistic, and doesn't get very graphic; I do not know whether Bizot keeps this sort of distance now because he already churned it out when he wrote The Gate, about his time imprisoned, but I'm intrigued enough about that and about the before and after of his arrest when he remained in Cambodia working to want to read The Gate. (less)