Repressive regimes rule by fear. Yet these very regimes are among the most fearful. Hence, in the paranoid mind of Iran's security apparatus, Esfandiari, a 67-year-old Iranian-American grandmother and director of the Middle East Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, became a central figure in an alleged U.S. and Zionist plot to overthrow the Iranian regime, despite her advocacy of dialogue with the Islamic Republic.
My Prison, My Home is Esfandiari's account of an 8-month ordeal that started with a staged robbery against her as she was on her way to the airport on December 30, 2006. Her robbers turned out to be security officials, who took her passports and then, when she went to the police station, subjected her to repeated interrogations, eventually taking her to Evin prison where she was held for 105 days. In her narrative, Esfandiari intertwines her own life story with the history of U.S.-Iran relations. Her love for her country of birth and a desire to see a better Iran shines through her writing.
Esfandiari's descriptions of her interrogations offer a valuable glimpse into the uninformed and often skewed reality of Iranian intelligence groups. For example, they assumed that blank wrapping paper, found during a raid in the apartment of Esfandiari's mother where Esfandiari was staying, must have had invisible ink writing on it: "I laughed, despite the gravity of the situation," she writes.
Esfandiari withstood her ordeal with grace, never admitting any guilt. In the end, through a barrage of international coverage, enough pressure was put on the Iranian regime to free her. Outside pressure worked for her, but as she writes, "What of others?"
Esfandiari also infuses her book with a message about the importance of engagement. She believes in engaging the Iranian regime because "thirty years of estrangement have yielded nothing of value." But after being imprisoned for advocating dialogue, aside from saying she believes in exchanges between Americans and Iranians, she does not say exactly how the regime should be engaged or at what cost.
Esfandiari's book is not the first to describe experiences under interrogation in an oppressive regime, nor is it the best. Natan Sharansky, former Soviet dissident, imprisoned from 1977-86, recorded similar observations about the primitive methods of his captors in his memoirs, highlighting that they were part of a system of slavery with which he would never be able to reason.
While Sharansky may have added greater depth and broader perspective, My Prison, My Home is, nonetheless, a valuable addition to the accounts written by former dissidents. Not only does Esfandiari add a corrective to the somewhat whitewashed accounts of Iranian history that too often omit the unseemly side of Iranian repression, but as the genre grows, its mass may give strength to others destined, unfortunately, to share Esfandiari's experience.
 Natan Sharansky, Fear No Evil, Stefani Hoffman, trans. (New York: Random House, 1988), p. 41, 261, xiv.