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Reading Group Guide

Discussion Questions

My Life as a Traitor

1. As you read about Zarah's youth, which aspects of Iranian life surprised you the most? What discoveries did you make about the history of Iran and Iraq and their recent war?

2. Zarah describes the rich spiritual traditions of Zoroastrianism, which sustains and inspires her. In what ways did the Islamic Revolution affect secular life in Iran? How do religious wars in general affect the faith of civilians? Should governments have any role in regulating faith-based organizations?

3. How did your perception of Arash shift as details about him unfolded? How did the reality of his friendship with Zarah compare to the images conjured by her interrogators?

4. In chapter eight, Zarah describes her relationship with Behnam, including the magazine-style checklist that spelled doom when she first met him. How might her experience with dating have differed in a less repressed culture? Would she have fallen in love with him so easily?

5. How did the memoir's dual timeline enhance your reading? What was the effect of interweaving memories of an idealistic childhood with scenes of brutality in Evin?

6. Discuss the title, My Life as a Traitor. Where does the true betrayal lie in Zarah's story? What does it take to build genuine patriotism among a citizenry? Should all forms of political expression be legal?

7. In chapter ten, Zarah describes a cousin who died after setting herself on fire. Why was it impossible for her cousin's husband to understand that her "daydreams [were] dismissed forever when she was a child . . . She had her soul thieved from her"? Why would many Iranian women, some of them Zarah's relatives, not understand it either? What convinced another cousin, Ellie, to believe the mullahs in chapter eighteen?

8. Chapter twelve describes the history lessons Zarah received at school and at home. Through what process can "official" history become manipulated? How can truth outlast propaganda?

9. In chapter thirteen, Zarah recalls grudgingly having to learn Arabic, feeling disdain for the Arabs who brought Persia to its knees fourteen hundred years ago. How does such ancient history manifest itself in current events? Why do western audiences often lack knowledge of the history beyond western civilization, while non-westerners such as Zarah can quote classics of British literature?

10. What did Zarah gain from her conversations with Sohrab, the uninhibited man imprisoned above her? What do their two very different situations indicate about justice in Iran?

11. At the end of chapter twenty, Zarah writes, "My political activism was to my mother a form of vanity, a boast to the world of my moral beauty." Can political activism exist without a sense of moral superiority and exhibitionism?

12. Throughout her imprisonment, Zarah is vocal about loathing her captors, and she refuses to concur with their lies. How would you have fared in a similar situation? What separates those who remain courageously defiant from those who succumb to aggressors?

13. Speculate about the reasons for Zarah's release. What did the government accomplish by arresting and torturing her? What determined her fate in their hands? In what way were the terms of her release like a second imprisonment, leading to life in exile?

14. Was Zarah's gender an advantage or a liability during her time in prison? How did her mother serve as a role model for survival in a misogynistic society?

15. How did you react to commentary delivered by Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at Columbia University in 2007? Does his regime offer any promise of reform, or does it signal higher levels of corruption and intolerance?

My Life as a Traitor
by Zarah Ghahramani

  • Publication Date: December 26, 2007
  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • ISBN-10: 0374217300
  • ISBN-13: 9780374217303