What is it like being child of an MEK member?

Atefeh in her mother's arms

At the age of five, Atefeh Sebdani from Iran was put on a bus with her little brothers. They ended up in Gothenburg and grew up in a Mujahedin affiliated family. Her autobiography is unimaginably dark – but also very readable, GP’s Nina Morby thinks.

“All my childhood I thought that the word death was equated with the word martyr in Persian”, writes Atefeh Sebdani in his autobiography “Min hand i min”, which stands out in the large range of I-literature that dominates contemporary Swedish prose. The reader soon becomes aware of what the book is not: namely, another auto-fictional depiction of middle-class boredom and existential misery.

Sebdani’s story begins in Iran, a few years after the Islamic Revolution of 1979. The mullahs have overthrown the monarchy and installed an authoritarian, Islamist republic with little tolerance for dissent. Her parents are affiliated with the People’s Mujahedin, the Marxist-Islamist opposition group that desires a secularized and democratic Iran. The father is convinced that fighting for the Mujahedin is the only right thing, the mother is politically uninterested but has no other choice.

Atefeh Sebdani

Believing it is the best for Atefeh, the mother puts her and the younger brothers on a bus with an unknown destination. After many agonizing days and nights, they finally end up in Gothenburg, with another Mujahedin-affiliated family who is running the fight from Sweden. Atefeh is asked to call the adults mom and dad, and the other children siblings. At the age of five, she herself has already assumed the role of parent to her little brothers.

It is clear from the beginning that Sebdani’s autobiography hides a darkness, but exactly how dark it is cannot be imagined at first. The years that come after arriving in Sweden are a struggle to fit in and to stay above the surface. Atefeh’s foster mother forces her to do household chores while disapproving of her entire existence. During the dinners, she asks the family to openly air what bothers them with Atefeh, who is puzzled by how it all fits with the Mujahedin’s feminist ideology.

Ultimately, “Min hand i din” is a story about the author’s own upbringing, but through it also emerges the image of Gothenburg in the 1980s, as it could appear from the eyes of an immigrant girl.
Even worse, however, is the foster father’s constant abuse, his sexual harassment, the relationship she is then forced into with her foster brother. She feels like “A body that only existed. A body that obeyed the other body in the room. A body that was a maid. A nuisance. A body to have sex with”. Dejected, she takes out a razor blade in the shower, ready to end her life. Then she remembers the promise she made to her mother: to take care of her younger brothers.

Despite all the darkness, the book is pleasant to be in, thanks to the author’s flexible language. Atefeh Sebdani, who by day works as an engineer and lecturer, writes matter-of-factly and with a clear forward movement where every sentence is carefully formulated.

Here and there the story is interspersed with italicized, shorter and more poetically written texts that resemble diary extracts. There, Sebdani writes about the longing for the mother, about the memories from the first years in Iran and Iraq. As a reader, you become greedy for these small excerpts, which offer another layer closer to the author’s innermost core. They could have been more.

But it’s a parenthesis. Overall, “Min hand i min” is a very readable autobiography that provides insight into what it is like to escape from one country and grow up in another, and what it means to be a woman in an environment where male desire rules.

Reading it is like being welcomed into a girl’s room, getting to share the author’s many secrets, and being lulled into the belief that most things will, in the end, be good.

By Nina Morby – Goteborg Posten – Translated by Nejat Society

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