Reza Kahlili (whatever his real name might be) is no James Bond. Bond was equipped with an arsenal of clever weapons that could be depended upon to protect him from his country’s enemies. Reza Kahlili had only a code book, coupled with a deep desire to overthrow the murderers that rule his country. Yes, Bond, if captured, might face torture and death. But Reza Kahlili, if recognized as an agent of the CIA, would be forced to watch the rape and torture of his wife before she and his young son would finally be allowed to die. Only then would Kahlili’s interrogators turn to him. Yes, Reza Kahlili is no James Bond.
A Time to Betray is Kahlili’s account of how he came to “betray” Iran in an attempt to save the country from its radical and murderous leadership. Because of his position as a computer expert for Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and his childhood friendship with Kazem, one of those now in charge of security issues inside the Guards, Kahlili is able to gather and transmit details that are otherwise unavailable to U.S. intelligence agencies. He will finally come to realize that the cover provided by his well known connection to Kazem is almost certainly the only reason he was able to survive for so long as a CIA agent – and, by the time he realizes this, he will be searching frantically for a way to escape Iran for good.
As a child, Reza Kahlili had two close friends, Naser and Kazem. Naser and Reza lived in the same upscale neighborhood, each of them part of a family within which the requirements of Islam were not strictly followed. Their friend Kazem was their opposite in several ways. He lived in a poor neighborhood, had to make regular meat deliveries from his father’s butcher shop, and, what would prove to be most important regarding the futures of the three boys, he came from a devout Muslim family.
As young men, the boys would take separate paths but they would remain close friends even during the years Reza studied computer science at the University of Southern California. Things would forever change, however, with the revolution of 1979 and the ascendance to power of the Ayatollah Khomeini, a religious fanatic who would ultimately be responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of his people. One would wholeheartedly support Khomeini, one would march in protest of Khomeini’s policies, and the other would choose a middle road from which he hoped to bring positive change.
A Time to Betray is a thrilling story, one filled with vivid images of the atrocities witnessed by Kahlili at the infamous Evin Prison and on the streets of the city. Readers will be horrified by Kahlili’s description of what countless young women were forced to endure in Evin before being marched to the firing squad, a death many of them came to welcome. And they will find it difficult to forget the details of the stoning of a woman convicted of adultery, a “crime” she committed only because she had no other way to feed her children. They will be angered that the culture’s built-in hypocrisy demands death for such women but seldom even punishes the men involved.
Reza Kahlili has told a dramatic story, one so dramatic that I have to question the timing of some of the events recounted in the book. On at least three occasions, timing is too convenient not to arouse suspicion that some events were placed in Kahlili’s timeline at the most dramatic points possible in order to maximize their effect. I do not question that they happened, just when they happened. Despite this misgiving about A Time to Betray, I believe the book is a worthy read, one to which Western readers would do well to allocate some reading time.
Rated at: 4.0
(Review Copy provided by Publisher)