Not Without My Daughter Resurrecting the American Captivity Narrative

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Hossein Nazari

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Abstract

As far as literary representations of the Islamic Republic of Iran in the West are concerned, according to Farzaneh Milani, Betty Mahmoody’s best-selling Not Without My Daughter (1987) remains “the most popular book ever published in the U.S. about Iran.” Nevertheless, the book’s unprecedented popularity notwithstanding, it has garnered scant critical attention. Hence, as the first major literary analysis of the text, this paper sets out to illustrate how Mahmoody’s “memoir” functions within the paradigm of the well-established literary tradition of American captivity narratives. In so doing, it demonstrates how the text constitutes a site wherein the three subgenres of captivity narratives – as a religious pilgrimage, a propagandistic tract, and a sensational shocker – converge. It also analyzes the conceptualization of captivity as a condition that transcends the boundaries of the spatial and the physical. Furthermore, analysis of the text reveals how the book’s production and reception were conditioned not only by its construction within the parameters of American captivity narratives, but also by what came to be known in the West as the “Iran Hostage Crisis.” Finally, the production and reception of Not Without My Daughter is critiqued as a testament to the protean nature of American captivity narratives and the genre’s malleability, which allow it to be rehashed and reformulated to align with the dominant sociopolitical zeitgeist at the time of production. Twenty years before Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) would sing, “Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran,” to the old Beach Boys tune “Barbara Ann,” the idea was proposed in the most popular book ever published in the US about Iran.

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