Book Review: My Name Is Mahtob

My Name Is Mahtob, by Mahtob Mahmoody

[Note: This book was provided free of charge by BookLook/Thomas Nelson Publishing in exchange for an honest review.]

This was a hard book to read, as I can perhaps too painfully relate to the writings of Miss Mahmoody, who is writing here the memoir of the first part of her life, a tale of the struggle of faith and a resilient spirit against the fear that comes from having a narcissistic and abusive father and from living one’s life under the harsh glare of unwanted celebrity that came from being a poster child for international kidnapping as a result of the fame of her mother’s book Not Without My Daughter and the resulting movie adaptation. From the beginning of the book, though, the author moves into very uncomfortable space by discussing her own deep family-induced PTSD, in saying: “The pictures I had with me on the plane were more recent. They hadn’t been developed at Fox Photo. I knew there would be no predator on their backs and yet, without giving it a thought, I checked anyway. It was an unconscious habit born of a lifetime of hypervigilance. It is no coincidence this was the image my mind captured in childhood as a symbol of my father. He was, after all, the photographer of the family, and I was his favorite subject. My life very easily could have turned out differently. I wonder who I would have become if things had gone according to my father’s plan (3).”

Although this is a book that hits uncomfortably close to home [1] in many ways, from the torment that comes from fear when one feels unsafe everywhere, and where one uses writing as a way of trying to forget what the mind has been remembering so that the memories are no longer the cause of nightmares and intense anxiety. The author writes about how she has always had close friends who were guys but struggled to have better relationships, and the book also deals with the reality of honoring a father who was not in any way worthy of that honor. What is most surprising of the book is the way that the author confesses her own difficult struggle with the fifth commandment [2] and her success in developing empathy for her father, despite his many sins. Ultimately, the author came to the point where she honored her father not for his sake, but for her own sake, that she would not be destroyed by bitterness, and that she would be able to respect Her Father above.

In terms of its contents, the book is mostly a straightforward narrative, mostly dealing with her family dynamic from her own perspective, and from the author coming to terms with the death of her father. The book does not end with marriage and a family, but 300 pages of record about the author’s life show a triumphant memoir of the importance of good friends and loving family, and about the way that there is a gift in trauma in that it leads to a burning passion for justice and wholeness. It is no surprise, after all, that the author is an advocate for mental health, given her own history. In 31 chapters, divided into several unlabeled parts, the author examines her childhood routines, her frequent moves, her deep shyness, and the loyalty of her friends. Despite everything, she had a strong support network that gave her encouragement when she was weak, and that helped to protect her from threats. As a whole, the book is deeply poignant, showing that in a family as dysfunctional as hers, there were no winners from the dysfunction. Everyone lost in their own ways–everyone’s health suffered, everyone was burdened with stress and the compulsive need to defend oneself in a hostile world. It is no surprise that there is such frequent accounts of suffering in these pages. After all, such suffering springs from sin, and from the refusal to treat others with love and kindness and respect. Without such sins, there would not be books like this, but it would be a better world. Still, one hopes that the author is a happier woman for having written of her suffering and for having no longer felt it necessary to remember such painful difficulties of her youth.

[1] See, for example, the following quotes:

“To say I was observant would be an understatement. Things others overlooked were glaringly obvious to me. Whether a blessing or a curse, this quiet attentiveness quickly became am mandatory safety precaution. Every sound, movement, unspoken word meant something, and even as a very small child, I sensed the vital importance of noticing all that happened around me (81).”

“They say that disease is representative. If that’s true, it should come as no surprise that even within my body I was quite literally under the constant threat of attack from my own flesh and blood. My dad remained quiet, but the threat he posed was ever present. The same was true of my lupus. Just as family had spent years guarding me with hypervigilance against an attack from my father, they now scrutinized me for any sign of an attack from within (143).”

“That one experiment made a significant difference in my shyness. Being forced to face my fear, to literally stare it down, freed me from its power. Now, whenever I feel that old insecurity rising back to the surface, I am no longer stuck in the awkwardness of the early days of high school. Instead, I am reminded of the five minutes I shared with a beautiful green-eyed stranger–the five minutes that taught me it is okay to be seen (238).”

“This book has given me a beautiful gift. The memory of the pain and anguish of my past that I have carried with me all these years, I no longer have to carry. As I lay down my pen, so to speak, I set aside those details. I relinquish my mind and my heart from the duty of remembering. Tamoom…it is finished. I am hunted no more. Now I am free (303).”

[2] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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9 Responses to Book Review: My Name Is Mahtob

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