A mother’s memoir about the imprisonment, conviction and execution of her daughter Reyhaneh Jabbari, a young Iranian woman who was executed for killing her rapist in self-defence. Wie man ein Schmetterling wird was written in conjunction with German filmmaker Steffi Niederzoll to accompany the documentary Seven Winters in Tehran, which premiered at the 2023 Berlinale and won the festival’s Peace Film Prize.
Reyhaneh Jabbari was nineteen years old, an ambitious student who also worked as an interior designer, when she met a man named Morteza Sarbandi in a coffee shop. She was delighted when he commissioned her to design the interior of his plastic surgery practice, but when she arrived to look at the rooms, she found he had tricked her. What awaited her was a shabby apartment and Sarbandi’s attempt to sexually assault her. Reyhaneh stabbed him in self-defence and fled the scene.
Not only did Sarbandi die that night, he turned out to be a secret agent with Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence. Reyhaneh was subsequently detained and tortured, framed by her captors as a liar and terrorist. For seven and a half years, her family went through an emotional roller coaster, with her mother, Shole, trying everything she could to obtain justice for her daughter. The case made waves internationally, but Reyhaneh’s trial was rigged and she was sentenced to death by hanging. After her execution, her mother and two sisters managed to flee to Germany, though her father remains trapped in Iran.
Shole Pakravan is an activist who fights for the rights of prisoners on death row in Iran, and she continues to publicise her daughter’s story. As an accompaniment to the film Seven Winters in Tehran, but a memoir that stands in its own right, Wie man ein Schmetterling wird is an extremely powerful and humbling book that alternates between Shole’s and Reyhaneh’s voices. The latter is presented as transcripts of phone calls and letters smuggled out of prison; the book also includes photographs. Pakravan offers plenty of insight into the often baffling contradictions of life under the Iranian regime, with footnotes to explain details of politics and culture with which some readers may be less familiar.
In light of recent events in Iran, this clear-sighted memoir is extremely timely, yet also unique in its presentation of the intimate perspective of a mother in what is already a highly publicised story. Emotional yet understated, profoundly courageous and deeply affecting, Wie man ein Schmetterling wird is an important and inspiring read.
Read more on the publisher’s website here: https://www.piper.de/buecher/wie-man-ein-schmetterling-wird-isbn-978-3-8270-1370-5