Bayan Abubakr's Reviews > Not Without My Daughter

Not Without My Daughter by Betty Mahmoody
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's review
Apr 25, 2012

really liked it
Read in April, 2012

A male’s dominance over the female race has been present since biblical times; men were always seen as the stronger, faster, dominant race. But when one challenges these tainted ideals, how does the story end or change? Does it become a story of lies and deceit? Or a story of a martyr who challenges deeply rooted societal ideals? In Not Without My Daughter by Betty Mahmoody, it is both. Betty Mahmoody was the ‘average’ stereotypical divorcee who swore of marriage and lived her life everyday to the fullest, until the day a dark-haired beauty with a foreign tongue entered her simple life. Betty soon realized that looks don’t exactly reflect a being’s true form, and that Mahmoud/Moody isn’t at all what he set out to be. Published by St. Martin’s Paperbacks in 1991, Mahmoody keeps you wanting to turn the pages, as the setting, the overall theme, and characterization keep ones eyes glued to the 420 page account of Mahmoody’s perilous decision to challenge societal boundaries, and escape the confines of Iran.

When the book was first published, Iran was facing one of biggest religious battles to this day, as the Shah had complete power. In the provocative opus, Mahmoody tells of the goriest of details, while also managing to insult the entire Iranian culture. “They would wipe their nasal mucus on the edges of the burqas, an hour in these tents would be petrifying,” (Mahmoody 59). Here not only shows of Betty’s extreme bias and hatred of her husband’s family, but it adds to the ongoing war. When the book was first published, the Iranian – Kuwait war was only beginning, and Betty’s blunt comments only added to the controversy. When Betty told more of the Iranian’s pitiful and disgusting ways, it only gave Americans a sense of security, and a desire to further attack Iran. “The women all worshiped their husbands, as if they controlled their every move,” (Mahmoody 68). Here is yet another example amplifying the setting. Women weren’t exactly the most powerful of beings in that day and age, they sublimed to their abusive husbands and tolerated this life until their death. “What was an American women doing flying into a country that had the most openly hostile attitude towards Americans of any nation in the world?” (Mahmoody 3). Iran and the United States have never been on the best of terms; wars and many betrayals have fouled what good relationship could have ever been produced between the two nations. The land not only was tense in itself, but it was a poster child of hatred towards Americans. The setting clearly is half of what the book is, as it truly shows how out of place and tortured Mahmoody was during the worst eleven months of her life.

The overall message or theme in Not Without my Daughter was that society and culture take its toll or effect on one’s mindset. This is lucid, as Moody seems to be a cultural chameleon. When in the west, he drinks alcohol and jokes as if a ‘typical’ American. But in the east, he transforms into the hostile husband he truly is. “Moody was romantic, he took me out on long walks and always bought Mahtob gifts,” (Mahmoody 67). Here is an example of the Moody we are first introduced too. Sweet, loving, and kind, what every American woman would desire in a man in the early 90’s. It seems as if he is forming around his surroundings, he adapts to what the normal mindset is, and is torn between two, if not more personalities. “‘We’re not going back to America’ he whispered ever so sullenly” (Mahmoody 102). In this quote, it is obvious that Moody is going through an awkward transition phase, a phase of western mentality to eastern. It’s difficult for him to process the words to his wife, to tell her that they’ll never go back to the United States. Because of this it is palpable that Moody is easily influenced by culture, he has no set personality or mentality, he just follows popular thought. “‘He took Mahtob away from me, he dragged her by her hair, I don’t know where she is…’” (Mahmoody 345). In this climatic scene, Moody separates Mahtob and Betty, further sending Betty through a spiral of emotions. It is also important to note how Moody has finally evolved into the typical Iranian husband. He no longer takes Betty on long walks, he no longer coos to Mahtob. Instead he drags them to a foreign land and equally destroys them both. The books overall message is too warn readers that our minds are heavily influenced by our surroundings, where we live and breath effects the way we think and act.

From the first page, it was lucid that Betty was a strong, independent woman. She was a thirty-year-old divorcee who held a powerful position at an equally strong company. It was odd to see her sway so easily to Moody’s malicious ways. “He showered me with gifts at least twice a week, he cared for me, he cared for me,” (Mahmoody 68). In this illustration, it is shown how much of a hopeless romantic Betty truly is. Although she may seem strong and invulnerable from the outside, in truth she is nothing but a women who craves love, like any other rational human being. “ It would take anything and everything to save Mahtob, I had to get her out of Iran, no matter what the consequences,” (Mahmoody 145). Here is yet another aspect of Betty’s complex personality. She puts herself below the needs of others, as she is constantly doing all she can in the novel to protect Mahtob. This could relate to American women, as although they may be a tad romantic like Betty, they would also do whatever it takes to protect their children. “It hurt to think of how much I trusted Moody…of how he had wounded me and Mahtob, I constantly find myself in tears over the fact that I so easily opened myself up to him,”(Mahmoody 411). The final aspect of Betty’s character is vulnerability. Although she may act tough, although she might be a helpless romantic, although she might protect her child, Betty is still a fragile, docile creature. Through characterization, Mahmoody is able to connect to her audience with glimpses of her truly complex character, one so complex, it was able to battle through societal abuse in Iran, and successfully rescue herself and her family.

Overall, Not Without my Daughter proved to be an interesting read. The opus not only takes you through the ordeals of Betty and Mahtob in a foreign land, but also introduces one to Iranian culture and life. I would recommend this novel to anyone who holds any interest in politics, women’s rights, or just craves a read on powerful women, as it definitely proves to enlighten even the slowest of readers. In full honesty, I do believe Betty conveyed her message, that society and culture have an affect on one’s mindset, and with this came come deadly results. Not Without my Daughter not only proves to be an informative and thrilling novel, but also holds a theme that relates to anyone, anywhere.

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