A kind of People Smuggler of the medical profession, Kooshyar Karimi's memoir tells the true story of a young Iranian woman for whom pregnancy means certain death. In working to save Leila, and countless like her, Doctor Karimi risks the lives of himself and his family.
Leila is 22 years old and lives in a small town in Iran with her parents, elder sister and three cruel brothers. It is the strictest of families and Iran in the mid-1990s, as now, is under sharia law. Leila, intelligent and passionate, yearns to go to university but her family will not allow it. This doesn't stop her reading, and her trips to the library are among the few outings she's allowed. She and her sister have also taken to visiting the local orphanage, an outlet for their natural affection and generosity that can find no expression in such a rigid life. As Leila returns home one day, she comes upon the handsome owner of a clothes store, and her fate is sealed.
Leila's Secret is told in two voices, Leila's and Kooshyar Karimi's. Born in a slum to a Muslim father and a Jewish mother, Kooshyar is married with one daughter. He has a successful medical practice and a kind heart, often treating his poorest patients for free. He is also of a mindset far too liberal for his own good; he cannot abide the treatment of women in sharia society and so he illegally performs terminations and hymen repairs for the raped and the unmarried, who otherwise face death either by stoning or their own hand. Kooshyar's own death, should he be discovered, will be by hanging.
Kooshyar intertwines Leila's story with his own because, as he says, 'I can no longer think of her life and my life as separate. I too was an unwanted child.' Even though her pregnancy was dangerously far advanced when she came to him, he managed to save her, learning her story as he did, but a year later he was arrested and tortured, spared execution only by being forced to become a spy for the regime. He eventually escaped and was given refuge in Australia. These two extraordinary stories are compelling, haunting, heartbreaking, and for all the tragedy of their substance, also paradoxically, beautifully uplifting. Kooshyar Karimi writes with the depth of his immense compassion, and the reader finishes his book the larger for having read it.
About the Author
Kooshyar Karimi was born in Tehran and now lives in Sydney. He is the author of several books on Iranian, Chinese and Assyrian myths and history, one of which was banned from publication by the Iranian government. His memoir I Confess: Revelations in Exile was published in Australia in 2012. He is also an award-winning translator of Gore Vidal, Kahlil Gibran and Adrian Berry, among others.
'[A] remarkable book . . . Karimi earns our trust through his experiences and his sympathy with the plight of the marginalised.' Owen Richardson, Saturday Age
'A profoundly moving story, beautifully told with extraordinary insight, and filling us with awe at the strength of the author's moral courage.' Robin de Crespigny, author of The People Smuggler
'An absolutely stunning book. Leila's story is deeply affecting and Kooshyar Karimi is a consummate storyteller.' Shirley Walker, Author of The Ghost at the Wedding
'Leila's Secret brims with compassion and yearning and eloquently shares the story of a regime suffocating its people and losing all that was great about it. To read this book is to see inside a culture and understand the desperation of its people.' The Hoopla
'A riveting account of one girl's innocent spirit defying the tyranny of Iran's crushing regime. It is a masterpiece of moral impossibilities and climactic suspense.' Bob Brown
'Inspiring . . . often harrowing . . . Offers insight into how and why one man is willing to put the welfare of others before his own safety.' Townsville Bulletin
'Compelling and powerful.' Sunday Age