while working on his next cartoon for the children's pages of Iran Jomeh, Mana Neyestani was inspired by the lowly cockroach. little did he know at that time that drawing this common household pest would turn his world upside down and forever change his life.
riots ensue in the Azeri provinces due to the "innocuous" cartoon and the Iranian government's miltiia is mobilized to curtail the spreading violence. as a result, Mana, together with his editor-in-chief Mehrad Ghasemfar, is sent to the notorious Evin prison. as the days wore on, they are subjected to solitary confinement and interrogations. Mana's sleep is punctuated with lucid nightmares and he experiences auditory hallucinations. both men also meet other inmates whose crimes far outweigh that which Mana and Mehrad have been charged with.
one day, the cartoonist and his editor are surprised when they are temporarily released. reunited with his wife Mansoureh and the rest of his family, Mana makes good use of his time to plan an escape.
Mana's unpretentious illustrations are rendered in black and white. they leap at the reader, conveying Mana's harrowing experiences in all its stark details. some have the appearance of an editorial cartoon to depict Iran's judicial and prison systems. some are glimpses into a husband and wife's private moments. some are quite disturbing but i have seen worse. a few show humor as if to mask the horror behind the truth. yet the overall message is still clear - that of a desperate man forced to take steps to ensure his freedom and that of his loved one.
today, Mana is free albeit living in exile with his wife in France. he still continues to draw and master his craft and to inform the world about his birth country's political situation.
true stories like that of Mana's, though hard for me to take in, are close to my heart. his version takes place in Iran and beyond its borders but it is no different from those stories i have read about or heard first-hand when i worked for a non-profit organization that helped process and prepare thousands of Indo-Chinese refugees from Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos for permanent resettlement in the United States and Europe.
looking back then and after reading Mana's story now, i continue to pay homage to all the men, women and children who made it to freedom and lived to tell their tales. i grieve for those who did not.
*received a copy for review from Edelweiss