January 13, 2015

Nazila Fathi

Harvard Book Store welcomes Iranian journalist NAZILA FATHI for a discussion of her book The Lonely War: One Woman’s Account of the Struggle for Modern Iran.


In the summer of 2009, as she was covering the popular uprisings in Tehran for the New York Times, Nazila Fathi received a phone call. “They have given your photo to snipers,” a government source warned her. Soon after, with undercover agents closing in, Fathi fled the country with her husband and two children, beginning a life of exile.

In The Lonely War, Fathi interweaves her story with that of the country she left behind, showing how Iran is locked in a battle between hardliners and reformers that dates back to the country’s 1979 revolution. Fathi was nine years old when that uprising replaced the Iranian shah with a radical Islamic regime. Her father, an official at a government ministry, was fired for wearing a necktie and knowing English; to support his family he was forced to labor in an orchard hundreds of miles from Tehran. At the same time, the family’s destitute, uneducated housekeeper was able to retire and purchase a modern apartment—all because her family supported the new regime.

As Fathi shows, changes like these caused decades of inequality—especially for the poor and for women—to vanish overnight. Yet a new breed of tyranny took its place, as she discovered when she began her journalistic career. Fathi quickly confronted the upper limits of opportunity for women in the new Iran and earned the enmity of the country’s ruthless intelligence service. But while she and many other Iranians have fled for the safety of the West, millions of their middle class countrymen—many of them the same people whom the regime once lifted out of poverty—continue pushing for more personal freedoms and a renewed relationship with the outside world.

About Author(s)

Nazila Fathi is a journalist, translator, and commentator on Iran who reported out of the country for nearly two decades until 2009, when threats from the Iranian government forced her into exile. From 2001 to 2009, Fathi was based in Tehran as the only full-time New York Times correspondent in Iran, writing over 2,000 articles; prior to that, she wrote forTIME magazine, and Agence France-Presses. Her writing has also appeared in the New York Review of BooksForeign Policy, and Nieman Reports. Fathi is the translator of Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Shirin Ebadi’s book History and Documentation of Human Rights in Iran, and has been interviewed on CNN, BBC, CBC, and NPR. She received her MA in political science from the University of Toronto in 2001 and is the recipient of numerous fellowships, including the Raoul Wallenberg Fellowship at Lund University, a Nieman Fellowship for journalism at Harvard University, a Shorenstein Fellowship at the Harvard Kennedy School, and she was an associate at the Harvard Belfer Center. She lives with her husband and two children in Bethesda, Maryland.