Ever since he could remember, Joseph Rabbani was taught by his father, Jalal, to be strong. Don't show weakness or fear because where Jalal is from in Iran little boys must become men very early. In his teen and adult years, Joseph would come to realize how true that sentiment was.
Escape the Hezbollah, which is inspired by a true story, begins with an adult Joseph making a dangerous journey out of Iran on a smelly fishing boat. As the novel progresses we learn what brought Joseph, a Jewish-American Christian, to this point. A pre-teen Joseph was living a worry-free life with his parents and younger brother, Jonathan, on a small island just off the coast of Savannah, Georgia. His father, a Muslim, and his mother Dorothy, a Jewish-American Christian, had forged a life for themselves in the U.S. In the U.S. Joseph also had the freedom to be who he was, and most of all he had the freedom of religion. The freedom to be a Christian right along with his mother Dorothy. But that all changed when Jalal, a Muslim, decided he wanted to go home to Iran. Even before Joseph learns of the move, his crying mother Dorothy warns him that he must keep his faith to himself because in other countries believing in Christ can get you killed.
After the move Joseph notices a change in his parents. In America, Dorothy was more apt to challenge her husband, but in Iran Jalal puts a stop to that. In Iran, women must know their place and it's not to question their husbands or men in general as it can have dire consequences. Slowly, Joseph begins to make friends. His life changes completely when he meets Azita, a young woman whom Joseph calls his "Persian Princess." They promise themselves to each other. Joseph vows to have at least seven children, while Azita playfully says they will have less. As their love grows, Azita also becomes a Christian. Choosing to denounce Islam in their hearts becomes dangerous as friends and family members begin to disappear. It becomes increasingly difficult for Joseph and Azita to know who they can trust.
The young sweethearts are pulled apart when Joseph and his friend Fareed are kidnapped by armed soldiers of the Hezbollah army. Once in training camp, Joseph and Fareed are subject to numerous horrors. They witness women raped, beaten and tortured to death. Joseph must participate in killing drills, failure to comply could result in his own death. As much as he doesn't want to, Joseph must go with the program. He unwittingly kills the mother of a fellow soldier. All the while he begins to question his faith in God. He begins to wonder if God even exists. If he does how can these violent acts continue. The Hezbollah army is fortifying it's troops, so the U.S. and other countries can't fill their heads with propaganda. But the Hezbollah army wants to do the exact same thing to those who don't embrace Islam. The irony wears on Joseph. He sees his friend Fareed embrace the Hezbollah, and wonders who he can trust now. While on leave, Joseph finally sees his family and tells them of the horrors in the camp. It is then that Dorothy stands up to Jalal. She wants Joseph to be free of Iran. The family forms a plan to get Joseph out of Iran. It takes years of hiding and money before Joseph is finally free.
I myself am not a very a religious person, but I always love learning and reading outside of my comfort zone. Escape the Hezbollah by Pola Muzyka doesn't mince words when it comes to the subject matter at hand. But Muzyka is not trying to be heavy-handed with the material either. There is a nice balance. Muzyka does explain in graphic detail how people were tortured for their faith, but it balances nicely with how Joseph feels tortured inside with his own faith. The book will make you question your own faith. What does one do in this situation? How much can the human psyche take before you give in? Do you give in or do you worship in secret?
Note: I received a copy of the book from the publisher at the request of the author in exchange for an honest review