For a wandering mind like mine, sometimes concentration is the hardest thing to accomplish. However, when I started reading The Golden Cage, the latest book by Shirin Ebadi a 2003 Nobel Peace prize winner, I could not put it down until I had finished the last page. It was a positively captivating read. In this book, Dr. Ebadi tells a melodramatic story of a family that was very close to her own family, a family that had to overcome constant challenges that ultimately caused its degeneration. Her story details the heartbreaking tales of three members of this family, three brothers named Abbas, Javad, and Ali, who are locked in a cage of dogmatic ideologies that bring them nothing but hostility and drag each of them toward their fatal destiny. The oldest brother ends up committing suicide. The youngest brother is assassinated by an IRI (Islamic Republic of Iran) agent while living in exile in France after renouncing his past. The third brother is executed by the Islamic Republic of Iran based on fabricated charges that he was a communist traitor.
Regrettably, some people do not want to accept the fact that they can have differences of opinion with others and do not have to hate each other, or end up settling their differences in the streets using a baton and a machete. Instead, they can respectfully choose reason and the power of the mind to navigate ideological turbulence. I am familiar with zealousness, but not to the degree to which a man is completely blinded by his hatred. Despite the fact that our culture tells us that brothers fight, it is only stupid people who believe that brothers do, literally and self-righteously, fight to the point of personal destruction.
As the narrator, Dr. Ebadi carefully examines the recent critical social and political issues in Iran and masterfully incorporates them into the main story of her book. Tirelessly as always, she thrives on unveiling the atrocities and injustices being committed by the theocratic government of Iran in the name of Islam, especially the inhumane treatment of women or those who happen to disagree with the regime and dare to challenge its unbending principles. She walks us through her own struggle to gain a rightful place for women in a society infected with narrow minded ideologues, a society confined to golden cages of blind, unbending beliefs.
My heart is with the lone survivor of this family, Pari, who tenaciously absorbs all the shocking effects of one tragedy after another. Her steadfastness demonstrates the enormity of the human heart and the wondrous mental capacity of humans who are forced to deal with adversities. Her ordeal makes the story of Zainab (a Shia heroin) sound like a feeble fairy tale. Pari is not an ordinary woman but a highly educated exceptional human being who is a physician by training and is introduced to the world through the powerful words of the author. Dr. Ebadi. endeavors to inform the world of the injustices being done to women like her and draws public attention to the desecration of human rights in Iran. The book is about Pari’s excruciating ordeal. As the only surviving member of her family, Pari has no choice but to live forever with the nightmarish consequences of what happened to her family, the microcosm of similar problems confronted by countless number of other families in Iran.
Grief overwhelmed me time after time to the point where I could not prevent myself from sobbing uncontrollably as I read about Pari’s courage, stamina, and determination. It was an insightful sword to my heart as I imagined how many other Iranian families, just like Pari’s, have been torn apart by the ravages of hostility and vengeance created by the zealousness and humanly destructive milieu created by a theocratic government. “Politics are dirty games” she says; their victims are often innocent people who are caught in the crossfire. They lose everything because they are thrown into playing a no-win game, a game that is unfortunately played under the pretext of religion.
I love this book. The depth and the breadth of knowledge demonstrated by the author and her command of detail deserve high commendation. Dr. Ebadi is a woman who is unafraid of her healthy obsession with adventurism, her resolve to tell stories flavored with doses of historical realities, and of course on a lighter note throughout the book, disclosing her love of hot tea! She artfully employs every means at her talented disposal to help her get her points across, and never hesitates to speak out on behalf a worthy cause, even when she may personally be faced with grave danger. Throughout her book, Dr. Ebadi underscores the cogent quote attributed to Dr. Ali Shariati, a famous Iranian religious philosopher: “If you cannot eliminate injustice, at least tell everyone about it.” That mission is exactly what Ebadi courageously and poignantly accomplishes in this book.