I was lucky enough to receive a review copy of Lori Foroozandeh's new book Lori's Song: The true story of an American woman held captive in Iran. Here is the synopsis that comes from the publishers page:
Her name is Lori Foroozandeh, and this is her true story.
Lori lived her young years as a victim of abuse. As she grew older she fell into a classic pattern of self-destructiveness. But by the time she was twenty-seven, she was doing her utmost to create a sane life.
Mohammad Foroozandeh seemed like a man she could trust, a man who would care for her and respect her. Though she knew he engaged in drug use, she ignored the warning signs and married him. Two years later, he asked her to move to Iran, promising that she could pursue her career, assuring her that the country was quite modern. For four years, Lori adjusted as best she could to the oppressive customs of the land, but as her husband grew more demanding of her, he also became more violent.
After the World Trade Center bombings, Mohammad told her they must leave Iran. He purchased bus tickets that he said would take them out of the country and eventually to America. But before they could escape, armed guards attacked and kidnapped her. Lori was blindfolded and taken to a paramilitary POW camp somewhere in the hills.
Then the nightmare began…. six weeks of horrific beatings, raping, torture, and starvation.
This was a very heavy read, but an important story that I wanted to help share and "get the word out". And Lori was kind enough to take time out to answer some questions for me.
Q&A with author Lori Foroozandeh:
Q: Often people will try to see the "silver lining" in their trials and tribulations. Do you think that perhaps your difficult childhood helped to prepare you for your difficult time in Iran? Someone with less endurance and unprepared by the often harsh realities of life would probably have been less likely to have survived.
A: I don't know if this is always true or we just start reacting when we are in that situation. Believe it or not I never thought about a silver lining while in that camp, all I thought about was surviving minute to minute.
My childhood could have prepared me subconsciously that my life "sucked" so far, so this is all I have to look forward to in the future. But had this been the case I wouldn't have kept on trying to "get it right".
Q: There are some contradictions that really struck me. Mainly the biggest one was the contrast between the mother in the introduction and the mother in the rest of the memoir. For instance, while your mother in the introduction was described as somewhat uncaring, she is described elsewhere in the book as loving and you seem to have a decent relationship with her. She calls you in Iran to check on you. When you call her from the encampment, you describe how grateful you were to have her voice on the phone.
"A familiar voice from my past, someone who loved me and truly cared about my well-being."
Can you describe more your relationship with your mother? It seems very complicated, and you seem conflicted. Almost a "love-hate" sort of relationship. There does seem to have been love there, but also resentment and perhaps distrust?
A: The reason for this is when I originally wrote this as I described in the Foreword, I wrote it with no intention of mudslinging. So I just generalized what all families were like. Then the more I got into therapy about my childhood, I was not only told to change the book but felt it was necessary to
relate to others that were abused.
Originally the foreword was not even going to be in the book when I first wrote it in 2002. ( And believe it or not I am just now reading it cover to cover, I had to have my fiancé proof read it for errors, the second time around. My literary agent corrected it the first time. Still today it is too difficult to read certain chapters).
As I was saying It was just focused on my experience in Iran.
As you will note in the foreword I did say something to the effect that I was going to keep the book as it was so people could see how people like "us" i.e. sexually abused children: would go to lengths to protect those around them.
When I was a child as stated I was adopted, and as noted all the time growing up I thought that if I came forward to my mother with what my brother was doing then my mother would hate me.
Remember I thought that she approved or didn't mind that this was happening.
Eventually I tried to tell my mother and I always got the same response, "I don't have time to talk right now".
My mother was caring to a degree and lets face it she was the only mother I knew. Sometimes growing up we see only the good in our parents, or at least try to justify their actions with the intent of being good.
It's not until we reach adulthood or "enlightenment" do we truly understand the whole "gist" of things.
Yes she did call me in Iran to check on me, she was even friends with Mohammad or so I thought. I also didn't know Mohammad had been borrowing money from my mom and paying her back with big interest checks until later. Considering how much money he had I can only reason that this was
money laundering. After all why would any small town bank suspect a older lady to be laundering money. Especially considering the length of time she had that account.
When I called my mother from the camp of course I was appreciative of her voice. My mother and I had our ups and downs, mostly downs, but still there were moments. And when your being held prisoner in a camp half way around the world not knowing if you would be dead or alive the next day, any voice from your past would be welcoming and caring. Especially if they were the only one who could help you at all.
Also remember I didn't find out a lot of "truths" about my mother until I came home and after her death. She always kept us children separate from each other, by saying I will do this for you but don't tell your sister, and vice versa. She would also make statements about how your sister thinks she is too good for you and that is why she doesn't speak to you. For some reason my mother was intent on keeping our family from unity.
You can verify this with my sister Luci with whom I've come to reconcile with since returning.
Q: By the way, in regards to Faresh putting bread in your infected wounds, bread poultices have commonly been used in "folk medicine" for centuries to combat infections and gangrene. Remember that penicillin grows in bread and yeast. Evidently Faresh had probably learned this from a grandmother or some wise old woman.
A: Yes your probably right, as a nurse I just couldn't think of things to do at all, just getting water and bits of food was important to me, it seemed like that was all I could focus on. A lot of people in the middle east or for that matter people who are in less "spoiled" nations as the USA, count on their wise advice from mothers and grandmother. Unlike here we always have some shot or vaccine to prevent something so we don't have to worry about it. Our country might have hungry people but very rarely do you hear about a disease that emerged from the homeless community. At least in my view.
Q: You include a picture in your book of you and Mohammad on your wedding day. I noted how sad your eyes look in this photo. Do you know what you were thinking? What were your hopes for your future with Mohammad? Did you have any inkling of the "real" man that seemed to be hiding behind the charade?
A: I didn't notice that they were sad looking, but looking back and this wasn't on our wedding day, but on our reception day; anyway....now that you bring that to my attention, I suppose I did feel confused and scared about what I got myself into. I can't say for certain what I was pondering, but I'm sure I was also on Vicodin that day and probably wondering if I would ever kick that habit as well.
Q: It seems that no one wanted to believe your story. Have you had any corroboration to support your story, to garner you some weight in the media and help get your story out there? What about medical records that show scar tissue and x-rays to prove your claims of brutal abuse? The media should be all over this story!
I would think that part of the problem with verifying your story is the fact that it occurred in Iran-- a country known for hiding behind a veil of secrecy, especially when it comes to America. They don't seem to like America to know what is going on there.
A: Yes there are medical records, I arrived home weighing 70 pounds,. there was an ambulance waiting at the airport. As far as medical records sure there are but I'm not going to get into a "pissing" contest with people over my story. It's there, I wrote it, I'm not asking for notoriety, if I were I would have been hounding every talk show I could have when I got back. Instead I just opted for a newspaper article and NOT one in the National Enquirer:).
My therapist pushed me into publishing this telling me I owed it as a testament to people that have been through what I've been through: i.e. childhood sexual abuse, domestic violence, bipolar, and going to a foreign country.
I can't prove anything except "still" being in therapy for it now, and to top it off, I just went through rehab in October 2008, so this is the first time I've had to deal with it SOBER! My therapist gave me the "WONDERFUL" news that now this will be like dealing with it for the FIRST TIME.
There were a lot of memories I try to forget but which eventually come out in PTSD episodes. Including one that lasted four hours and I was taken to U of M, paralyzed and a respirator was put in me, due to them not being able to calm me down and thought I had spinal meningitis, while in the examining room they were doing the spinal tap and I woke up and could feel the needle since the paralyzation (sic) only made your muscles that way not your nerves. To top it off they had an intern doing the procedure who had to stick me THREE TIMES! He was afraid to do it after the second time and one of the doctors stated, "Oh she can't feel anything, if you can flap your arms Ms. Johnson" I told them when I finally could open my eyes and they took the respirator out everything they said. I was kept for an epileptic monitoring stay, but it was a little hard for them to analyze me when they had to keep me on Morphine for seven days due to their MISTAKE! This is when I quit going to U of M M!
Q: What do you hope will come of your disclosure of your time in the camp? Is it merely cathartic? Or do you hope that it will somehow help or change things?
A: Of course I hope that a LOT comes from this disclosure. The first and most important point I want to make is:
- THIS IS NOT A STORY ABOUT PREJUDICE TOWARDS THE IRANIAN PEOPLE OR THE ISLAMIC RELIGION.
YOU CAN'T HATE THE WHOLE RELIGION OR THE RACE FOR WHAT A FEW FANATICS DO. IF THIS WERE THE CASE WE WOULD ALL HAVE TO HATE THE WHITE MALE RACE FOR WHAT TIMOTHY MCVEIGH OR CHARLIE MANSON DID!
- Second, I hope that it encourages more victims of child abuse to come forward. I truly believe the more a subject is talked about the less likely it is to happen. I.e. the perps won't be so likely to commit this act if they know people and especially children are encouraged to talk about it. And yes I'm sure it was cathartic to a degree. I can sleep a lot better now;)
- I hope that people will go to my website and talk about not only bi-polar disorder which is so misunderstood, but also substance abuse, and domestic violence. I am not the only one to suffer from these problems, but if more people come together, and it's sad to say but true when someone puts the issues to ink and a book becomes popular for whatever reason then usually more people will be encouraged to come forward and we can try to create public awareness about the "TRUTHS" of these issues.
- Finally I hope that people who are thinking about traveling to a foreign country especially as a wife of that person, I pray to GOD that they find out the laws of that country. Not only as a visitor but as the wife or child of the person they are visiting with. I never knew that you needed your husbands written permission to leave Iran. I didn't know that public executions for adultery were still being practiced. There was so much that I was ignorant to.
I just went because I trusted my husband to tell me the truth.
Q: What was the hardest thing about your imprisonment?
A: Two events actually:
The first is being touched on the shoulder by God and being told that I was going home the next night. I will never forget that. I still get a warm feeling in my stomach when I think of that moment. And the second:
Watching what the other girls went through. Seeing that man go out and must have seen his son executed, broke my heart. Seeing Faresh's family watching her get publicly raped just killed me. I know this sounds textbook but it truly was the hardest thing. Watching what happened to other
people. I guess when you watch what happens to others, in your mind it somehow simulates what it would be like if this happened to you or your family if they were watching. And you know deep down it would kill them.
Q: You said in an email to me that you "didn't want to go with the bigger publishing companies like Simon and Schuster because they just wanted to edit the book so much and make me out to be 'Miss Perfect' thus devoid my drug addiction. I wanted to share that in the book as well as my bipolar and sexual abuse because I believe the more you talk about abuse the less it will happen." I get this. One of my favorite quotes is "The only good is knowledge, the only evil ignorance." Only through knowledge can things change.
A: So true. Also I believe that ordinary people say extraordinary things and extraordinary people say ordinary things. This is always been my rule, thus it's more important to listen to the people that are living day to day around you than it is to listen to some TV or movie star. They only say what their publicist allows them to say. This book says everything, My life is OUT THERE...an OPEN BOOK:)
Q: How is Douger today?
A: Douger is doing much better. He got his parole for March of 2010, so we both are eagerly awaiting this.
Q:Why have you decided to keep your last name, at least for the purpose of the book? I realize that the events in Iran happened to "Lori Foroozandeh", and I was curious whether that is why "she" is the one telling the story? I would think that, after your ordeal, you would be eager to shed your ex-husband's name.
A: I did want to shed it at first for a lot of reasons but my thinking was not clear then. I took back the name, because your right it happened to Lori Foroozandeh, and lets face it if readers were to look at a book like this written by Lori JOHNSON, it just wouldn't fit the bill so to speak.
Q:I'm a "life is too short for regrets" kind of a gal. Do you have any regrets? Or is life too short for regrets?
A: I'm not sure how to answer that. I've never been one to sit around and think about regrets, it could have been due to my drug use, but there were things I've done wrong in my life, lets face it a life full of bad decision making. I've been severely depressed but not really regretful, and I'm sorry if this offends people, but my whole life I guess has been, "lets get onto the next experience or event", I'm sure it has something to do with the bipolar and the drug use or maybe not. What I have been as I said was severely depressed, and now thanks to Prozac:), my fiancé John, and my two wonderful doctors, and rehab, I am now starting to look at life and my relationships with "EXCITEMENT"...gawd did I say that. My son won't recognize my good decision making and actual optimistic outlook on life now. Yes and I thank God for that everyday.
Q: What's your favorite motto or "words to live by"?
A: I wrote this back in 2002 after returning and am still a believer in it to the utmost: This and my saying above about that ordinary people say extraordinary things....etal.While Terrorism is a war that starts developing within the mind,
Religion is a war that antagonizes our conscience, but
Love is a war within the heart.....
Lori F. 5/2002 Share The Peace!
Q: How are you doing now?
A: I'm doing OKAY!:) My son is getting paroled, and I have a wonderful man and I now have learned how to survive in a relationship without drugs.
He has supported me all the way and I can't believe that God has blessed me with him.
When I say supported me all the way, he truly has loved me through all my terrible actions and mean behaviors to help produce the LORI OF TODAY. He doesn't drink, do drugs, hit me, or even smoke, and he doesn't have any felonies, my father would be proud:)
The first 40 years were anything but good, but I think the next 40 years will be GREAT!
Q: Is there anything else that you would like to say, or to share with my readers?
A: I just want to say thank you for asking questions that I'm sure everyone has had on their mind. Even me after I started proof reading it a little too late. But I hope I explained why in the foreword, if it is still confusing I apologize.
Thanks so much, Lori, for giving me the opportunity to read your story and for taking the time to answer a "few" questions. And now for my review of the book...
Lori's Song is a very heartfelt and heart-wrenching story of Lori's imprisonment in an Iranian POW camp just after 9/11. However it is much more than that, as it also touches on her childhood, her earlier life with her Iranian husband Mohammad, and the culture of Iran, among other things.
I found that the writing-style could be a little disjointed, the thoughts a little scattered, so it didn't "flow" like a lyrically well-written novel by an experienced author. And at times it can be a little repetitive. However this is a memoir, not a novel, and it reads more like a letter from your girlfriend who is sharing her sorrows and triumphs with you. It was real. There didn't seem to be the heavy editing or guidance in the structure of the story or maintaining a good flow that can be expected with a big publishing company. The book is riddled with misspellings and grammatical errors. But it's a very personal memoir. It was Lori's conscious decision to not go with a large publishing outfit, as she didn't want them to heavily edit her story. And I understand this.
I don't want any criticisms to detract from this story, as I think that it is important to read. As I've said before, one of my favorite mottos is "The only good is knowledge and the only evil ignorance." We must not be ignorant, and Lori has graciously and bravely bared her soul and her life to us so that we may be knowledgeable of the possible dangers of being an American in a country like Iran. She hasn't sugar-coated her own past behaviour or actions. She has laid it all on the table. For that I thank her.
She mentions at one point that she heard that anyone possessing an American passport was picked up, but was unsure the reasoning behind it. My own half-baked theory is that perhaps it was in preparation of an attack by the US, to have a bargaining tool or use them to create a barrier. Lori said herself that it was believed that America would lash out at all middle eastern countries for retribution. Or perhaps it was simply fueled by a hatred of America, and there was no point other than for "fun" and revenge against "the big Satan".
The bottom line is this: Read it! It is graphically violent, disturbing and heart-breaking, but it is also important. If you are of a sensitive nature, perhaps you should stray away from reading the book, because there is some very disturbing imagery, and it is real. It isn't "just a story". I was prepared for what I read. I was aware of the atrocities that go on in other countries, I've read other accounts outlining how it is culturally acceptable in some areas for a father to kill his daughter for the merest of infractions, of a young teen girl who was raped and gave birth to the child that was conceived during the rape, and then removed from the hospital by the authorities shortly after the babies birth, only to be stoned to death for the crime of adultery. And I worked with an Iranian man who had explained to me twenty years ago that an Iranian man was legally permitted to kill his wife for adultery (he doesn't even have to prove that she is guilty. Suspicion alone is grounds enough). You, too, should be prepared before taking on this book.
And after reading it, you should be even more amazed at the strength of those middle-eastern women who have chosen to stand up and fight for their rights. I am in awe of the courage that it takes with the constant threat of death hanging over your head. I'll never forget the Saudia Arabian woman who, when asked about how women were viewed in her country, said to the interviewer, "We are shoes. When a husband tires of his wife, he throws her away like an old pair of shoes. We are like shoes." I think that this excerpt from Lori's article about Iranian women says it best:
The Iranian woman is oppressed yet rebellious. She is subjugated yet unruly. She is controlled yet defiant. She is hushed and subservient. She is a religious fanatic living a secluded life. She is a revolutionary, a fighter, yet segregated and oppressed. Willing to die for her nation, she is a mother and a wife.
I think that Lori's biggest hope is that young American girls and women will be aware of life in other countries, and enter them with full knowledge of the risks involved. Also that we will see outside of our own little worlds to understand what is going on in the rest of the world, and who these people really are that we share this planet with, and that you shouldn't allow prejudice to cloud your opinion of a whole race of people based on the actions of a few.
You can learn more on the Lori's Song website.
Read Lori's article about the Iranian Woman, available online at the Iran Politics Club.
Learn more about Lori's Song or purchase the book through Outskirt Press.
Thanks again to Lori for offering to let me review her book, and for her gracious time in answering my seemingly endless questions. I only hope that I've done her story justice!