When the Ayatollah Khomeini came to power in 1979, he promised freedom from the tyranny of the Shah of Iran. For many Iranians, such as Yadi Sharifirad, Khomeini merely replaced one gang of infamous torturers with another.
The Flight of the Patriot is Sharifirad’s own story of how a rural tailor’s son became a celebrated war hero, only to find himself accused of being the worst kind of traitor in the new Iran: an American spy. After his release from an almost year-long prison ordeal marked by repeated episodes of torture, he begins to plot his family’s escape to Canada (with its “cowboys and snow”), where his wife has family.
This memoir is a fascinating and often chilling read. When Sharifirad’s fighter plane is shot down during the Iran-Iraq War, his life is saved by a band of Iraqi Kurds who put him in an open coffin atop a mule and spirit him across the border. After his wife and youngest children successfully make it to Vancouver, followed by his eldest son, Sharifirad spends years trying to outwit the authorities before he hires a smuggler to guide him across the dangerous Iranian-Turkish border to freedom (only to struggle once more to get all the right papers so he can travel to Canada as a refugee).
For all the pain that Sharifirad suffers, there is a lightness to the way he tells his story. He quotes the giants of Persian literature and often jumps from one memory to another. He even recounts his “other” autobiography – the one he was forced to write again and again in prison for his interrogators.
There are places where The Flight of the Patriot feels uneven and slightly repetitive. But the author’s rendering of his experience is deeply emotional and heartbreaking.