Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

A lifeline to Iranian teen from a world away

  • Print

Imagine two young women, both born in Iran -- one from an affluent and supportive family, the other neck-deep in poverty with nowhere to turn; one dealt an abundance of opportunities, the other sentenced to death for stabbing a man who tried to rape her.

The Tale of Two Nazanins is the powerful and deeply moving account of what happens when a privileged Iranian-Canadian receives a plea for help from a 17-year-old in her family's native country.

First-time author Nazanin Afshin-Jam is best known for her recent marriage to Defence Minister Peter MacKay.

She has enlisted the help of journalist and author Susan McClelland (The Bite of the Mango) to tell the story of her relationship with Nazanin Fatehi, who was still a teenager when she emailed for help halfway around the world.

Afshin-Jam, by the way, comments only briefly on her relationship with MacKay near the end of this book, explaining how they met through her human-rights work.

Afshin-Jam relates the story of her life in a sort of first-person memoir. She alternates these chapters with those about Fatehi based on interviews with her and information from those who knew her.

Neither Afshin-Jam nor McClelland met Fatehi, and at this point her whereabouts are unknown.

Afshin-Jam was born in Iran to well-off parents who fled the country in 1979 after the Islamic revolution. She grew up in Vancouver.

In 2003 she was crowned Miss Canada and then runner-up for Miss World. She completed a bachelor's degree in political science and a master's in diplomacy. With the help of her brother-in-law, a music producer, she signed a record deal in 2006.

At times Afshin-Jam dwells excessively on her own accomplishments and many heroes. However, it is the inspiration she drew from these people, she says, that led her down the admirable path she soon follows to help someone she has never met.

Fatehi is Kurdish and was born and raised in Iran. She grows up in abysmal poverty with a mother who feels that she was cursed to give birth to a girl. Her father is unable to hold a job and spends his time smoking cheap opium.

A younger brother, who is allowed to eat meat while his sisters are not, spits on her, kicks her and demeans her. In fact, beatings are commonplace for Fatehi at the hands of both parents. And she cannot go to school as she has to care for her siblings.

Her only refuge from her life of misery is an older woman named Hana who comforts and feeds the young girl when she can. One day, Hana tells her, "You know, our culture, we have been so oppressed by so many nations over our history.... Men take out their frustrations on women. And women take it out on their children. This is most common with the poor, like you."

One day, while still a child, Fatehi is raped by a friend of her father's. Some years later she is again accosted by a group of men, and one attempts to rape her.

This time she stabs him, and when he dies she is sentenced to be executed, imprisoned, drugged and beaten for two years.

Fatehi's story will resonate with women all over the world, even here in North America. Like Manitoba writer Beatrice Mosionier in Come Walk with Me, Fatehi must deal with the tragic loss of family and self-worth and powerlessness.

When Afshin-Jam receives the email asking her to help the teenager on death row, she steps up and launches a campaign to try to free the young woman. It is in these sections that her story shines.

Cheryl Girard is a Winnipeg writer.

The Tale of Two Nazanins

A Teenager on Death Row in Iran

and the Canadian Who Vowed to Save Her

By Nazanin Afshin-Jam and Susan McClelland

HarperCollins, 289 pages, $32

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 16, 2012 J8

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes


  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.


Make text: Larger | Smaller


RMTC preview of Good People

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • Marc Gallant/Winnipeg Free Press. Gardening Column- Assiniboine Park English Garden. July 19, 2002.
  • Young goslings are growing up quickly near Cresent Lake in Portage La Prairie, Manitoba- See Bryksa 30 Day goose project- Day 11- May 15, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)

View More Gallery Photos


Do you agree with the province’s crackdown on flavoured tobacco products?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google