the story behind the book | kate tuttle

Former captive claws back control of his story

david wilson for the boston globe

Throughout the 544 days he was held captive in an Iranian prison, Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian knew he wanted to write about the experience. “In the moments when I didn’t fear for my life, or fear for my wife’s life, and the prospect of us never seeing each other again was something I could push out of my mind, telling this story became one of the things that kept me hopeful,” he said.

Upon his release in 2016, Rezaian said, “I expected to come out gangbusters and go for it right away. And when I was finally set free I realized, ‘Oh my god. I have been isolated from the world for a very long time. First and foremost, I’m not ready to talk to people,’ ” he added. “It took me awhile to collect my thoughts.”

“Prisoner,” published last month, is the result of that process, which wasn’t easy. “It’s not cathartic. It was difficult to write. When I wrote about the hardest moments — the interrogations, solitary confinement, the night of my release — those were days that I expected to have nightmares when I went to bed — and I did,” Rezaian said. “But it was helpful in the sense that I was able to take this really traumatic experience and take control of the narrative and turn it into a story.”


Rezaian hopes the story will resonate beyond his time behind bars. “The last thing I wanted to do was write a book that would just recount my prison experience and not give any context about the Iranian experience,” he said, “about moderate Iran, about an Iran that I went to cover with a goal of shedding some light on it and altering the prevailing narrative of the last 30 years. It was also important to me to give some perspective on the Iranian-American experience,” he added. “And then it’s a love letter to my wife.”

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Rezaian will read at 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Brattle Theatre.

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Kate Tuttle, president of the National Book Critics Circle, can be reached at