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MAHTOB MAHMOODY: Telling her side of a harrowing story

  • Author:
    Catherine Ferland
  • Published:
    Summer 2016

Mahtob Mahmoody, 36, escaped a war zone 30 years ago. But even after returning home to the United States, her battles were far from over.

Once called “the most famous daughter in the world,” Mahtob Mahmoody is the subject of the book and film Not Without My Daughter, written by her mother, Betty Mahmoody. It recounts their experiences from 1984 to 1986 when they were held captive in Iran by her violent husband and Mahtob’s father, an Iranian-native doctor trained in the United States.  

Now, Mahmoody tells her own story in her book My Name is Mahtob, which documents, through her 6-year-old eyes, their imprisonment and escape, and shares the joys and struggles of her life since. 

The Iranian Revolution in 1979 transformed Mahmoody’s beloved “Baba Jon” into a religious zealot who brought his family to Iran for a two-week visit, but plotted to keep them there forever. He seized their passports and physically abused and threatened to kill Mahmoody’s mother.

After an 18-month imprisonment living under a tyrannical father, an Islamic fundamentalist government and falling bombs, the two escaped into Turkey, passed from one smuggler to the next, hungry and desperate.

Mahmoody eventually forgave her father, who died in 2009. “But forgiving doesn’t mean that now the trust is rebuilt and the relationship is repaired,” she said. “It’s just I’m not holding this against (him) anymore. I can’t imagine going through life carrying that kind of hatred.”     

While she tried to live a normal life, the threat of being kidnapped by her father, who clung to a belief that they could be reunited, was ever present. Coupled with being diagnosed with lupus, an autoimmune disorder, when she was a teenager, her days were transformed into a constant life-or-death situation. But, her faith kept her grounded.

“There are all of these different threads in our life,” she said, referencing The Weaver, a poem by B.M. Franklin. “The dark threads are necessary. It all works together to convey this beautiful picture and I believe that God is the weaver.”

Mahmoody never spoke to her father again, but still celebrates her Iranian heritage through long-held traditions and favored Persian recipes. She hopes readers can see beauty in her culture, perceptions of which are often clouded by fear. “It’s good to get a more balanced picture of it,” she said. “Yes, there are these dangers and yes there are these beautiful aspects of the culture.”

She has worked in mental health advocacy since graduation, but today is focusing on local book events and the challenge of living with lupus.

Instructed to preserve her own memories of their experiences, Mahmoody never read her mother’s book. But now, relieved of the burden of remembering, she writes, “Maybe now that I’m done writing, she’ll finally tell me which events we remember differently.”