Saturday, April 17, 2010

*The Stoning of Soraya M., by Freidoune Sahebjam

ISBN: 1559702338
first English-language edition
1994 Arcade Publishing

Let me begin by offering a quotation from the preface:

"After the shah was deposed and the fundamentalist regime headed by the Ayatollah Khomeini came to power in February 1979, many dubious elements of the population, including common-law criminals who had been jailed for good reason under the shah, were released from the country's  prisons. Taking advantage of the religious fervor sweeping the land, a number of these people, especially those with at least a basic knowledge of the Koran and its tenets, donned clerics' garb, gave themselves the title of mullah, and roamed the country seeing opportunities for self-enrichment or, quite simply, to conceal their past from the authorities."

In 1986, the author was waiting in a small mountain village in Iran for a contact to take him over the border into Pakistan, when he was offered tea by an elderly woman. She then proceeded to tell him that two weeks earlier, her niece Soraya had been stoned to death for being unfaithful to her husband, and that she had been innocent of the charge.  The author's contact showed up and he had to leave, but he promised the woman he'd be back, and he returned some six months later to hear her story, which ended up being the substance of this book. The book recalls a beyond-horrible crime instigated by one of these above-mentioned mullahs in cahoots with Soraya's husband.  This mullah (Sheik Hassan) had been in prison and was running away from the regime that put him there. He had fled to a small village of about 250 people where he was able to quickly gain the trust of the village leaders and become the go-to guy for settling disputes, and he was able to profit monetarily from his position as well. The sheik's background is important, because he represents one of those people whose position allowed him to manipulate religious beliefs for his own gain, and in this particular case, vengeance.

The basic story is this. Soraya's parents had betrothed her to Ghorban-Ali whom she had known since childhood and whom she didn't like even then. He was an abusive husband and later father, who would beat his wife regularly and then start in on his children. He spent a great deal of time turning his two older children against their mother. When he wasn't in the village, he was involved in black-market and other illegal activities until the change in regime, when he became a prison guard and realized his potential for power over others. Once he got a taste for power and life in the city (and the gains he'd made financially and materially in his position as prison guard) he no longer wanted to be a peasant from the village, but instead wanted to live the life of Riley in the city complete with a 14 year old honey that he wanted to marry. The problem was his marriage to Soraya, and how to get rid of her; ultimately with no way out of the marriage, he turned to Sheik Hassan.  And this is when Soraya's life went from one of abuse to one of utter horror.

There are a couple of things worth mentioning. First, there is no doubt that this event actually happened, and there is no doubt that stoning as a punishment for adultery is a reality among some Muslim fundamentalists in some areas. You can go to any human rights organization's website and find out all that you want to know about it there and to be fair, you can go to the website of Al-jazeera (an Islamic news organization) to read about recent developments about stoning as well. It is also an abominable practice that is beyond my scope of comprehension in the realm of human cruelty.

Second, there's no doubt in my mind that as far as the story this book tells, the stoning of Soraya M. a) reflects a plan conceived by a few misogynistic individuals who deliberately used the existing Sharia laws for their own personal gain and b) was allowed to happen as a result of an abuse of power in this small village.

To get the full story, you need to read the book. It is a difficult story but an eye-opening one that you will probably not soon forget. I know I won't. I don't think I need to see it on the big screen, though.


  1. Ohhh, We just watched that movie. If you haven't seen it, you should watch it. Very Sad, and hard to watch at times, in The Passion of the Christ kind of way. Great Review.

  2. Thanks, Rick. I do believe that the same people who made Soraya made Passion of the Christ (that's my understanding anyway). I'd probably have my eyes closed through the stoning!

  3. I'm glad you posted your review!

    I can't imagine living a life where this kind of thing is accepted. Good for you for reading this kind of book and learning more about another culture. I honestly, shamefully, just generally don't have the courage for it, especially the true stories. I'll be sticking to The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns.

  4. Thanks, Jennifer! I worked on it so that it specifically addressed the book and no more. I think that's what was missing with the other reviewers over at Amazon.

    I loved the book of Kite Runner, and at the end of that movie I was really choked up. But I must admit, I'm one of those people who enjoys a good movie cry.

  5. Excellent review!

    I do want to read this book. It's good to read books that give you an inside perspective of different countries and lifestyles. I simply was captivated with Memoirs of a Geisha; and I feel this book, although out of my comfort zone, will enlighten me.

  6. Jeannie - it's very short, but powerful. Memoirs of a Geisha was a good book and it blew me away that a man wrote the whole thing.


Say what you will, but at least try to be nice about it.