Married to an Iranian, and mother of two young children, Debra Johanyak was a teaching assistant at Iran’s Shiraz University when the American Embassy in Tehran was taken over by militants on November 4, 1979. Behind the Veil tells the story of a woman with dual citizenship who loves both the United States and Iran but must choose between them when the embassy takeover triggers an international and personal crisis.
Johanyak recounts the events of her life in Iran, drawing on her own journal and family letters, as well as public news sources. Against a background of increasing political and religious tensions, she gives the reader vivid pictures of the world she experienced there, in good times and bad—tribal customs in a village wedding, sandstorms, the warmth of the large Iranian family she married into, the threatening pressure of Islamic fundamentalists. Coming face to face with dramatic changes in Iran’s government and society, Johanyak must also confront her own identity.
For anyone who has ever wanted to look behind the veil of media imagery and see life in Iran before and after the 1979 revolution, Debra Johanyak’s book offers a clear, intimate, and unflinching view of a culture in conflict, as she comes to terms with her religious faith, political views, and feminist values. Behind the Veil chronicles a dangerous time in Iran and America’s shared history, and brings us along on the spiritual and intellectual pilgrimage of one Midwestern woman finding her way in a volatile world.
In Behind the Veil, Debra Johanyak weaves the personal with the historical in fascinating detail. Through her own story, a Midwestern woman married to an Iranian man and living in Iran during the hostage crisis, Johanyak provides the reader with sharp insights into similarities as well as differences between the two cultures. The memoir offers a thoughtful perspective on cultural chasms and the bridges we could build to conquer them.
—Nahid Rachlin, author of Persian Girls, a memoir, and Jumping Over Fire, a novel
Debra Johanyak, a young American wife with an Iranian husband, gives a moving account of her experiences in the early days of the Iranian revolution in 1979. She not only vividly recounts the fears that the hostage crisis ignited in her, but also fondly recalls the deep bonds she formed with her Iranian in-laws. Elegiac and informative, the work is essential reading for anyone interested in gaining a better understanding about Iran and its people.
—Guity Nashat, professor of Middle Eastern history, University of Illinois at Chicago