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Ellen Estilai

Exit Prohibited: A Memoir

Exit Prohibited: A Memoir

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After the 1979 Iranian Revolution, Ellen Estilai and her family attempt to leave Tehran, their home of nine years. At the airport, her Iranian husband is inexplicably prevented from leaving. As he confronts hostile colleagues and the Islamic Republic's opaque bureaucracy, Ellen examines their lives, trying to understand what might have brought them to this point. Exit Prohibited is a story of a complex Iran, at once welcoming and hostile, progressive and traditional, enamored of and distrustful of the West-an Iran as complex as Estilai's relationship to it.

Iran History | Emigrants & Immigrants Biographies | Historical Middle East Biographies | Memoir

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Editorial Reviews

Ellen Estilai's delightful memoir begins in 1980 in Tehran's Mehrabad Airport during the turbulent days following Iran's Islamic Revolution, when her American-educated husband, a university professor, is inexplicably barred from leaving Iran. A truly compassionate and compelling story. -Hasan Javadi, author of Satire in Persian Literature and co-translator of The Education of Women and the Vices of Men 

Riveting and inspiring. An intercultural family odyssey of love, terror, and courage written with grace and nuance. Estilai recreates her family's mesmerizing journey through a subtle contemplation of socio-cultural forces, an imaginative structure, and a masterful selection of language. Exit Prohibited is a book to be savored and remembered.  -Carlos Cortés Author of Rose Hill: An Intermarriage before Its Time

This memoir is a marvel, as delicious and complex and rare as the saffron Ellen Estilai's husband studies when they first move to Tehran. Estilai investigates family, culture, history, politics, and identity with such a deft hand, exploring nuances of what it means to belong, what it means to be free.... Exit Prohibited is "Nush-e jaan," nectar for your soul-a nourishing, illuminating, deeply satisfying read. -Gayle Brandeis, author of Drawing Breath: Essays on Writing, the Body, and Loss and The Art of Misdiagnosis: Surviving My Mother's Suicide.

From its heart stopping opening to its melancholy yet hopeful ending, Ellen Estilai's Exit Prohibited propels the reader through an emotional true adventure in 1970's Iran running up to the Islamic Revolution. Estilai's portrait of her adopted country is at once humorous and harrowing, but her story is always insightful, surprising, thought-provoking and deeply affectionate.  -Stephanie Barbé Hammer, author of Pretend Plumber and Rescue Plan

Ellen Estilai's memoir is a vivid and brilliant evocation of family life in Iran, deeply layered with scents and food and family and community that allow a reader to feel as if we were accompanying the author on the streets and at the tables of real life in this country, where lineage and history and love are gathered in kitchens, gardens, and neighborhoods. A beautiful book. -Susan Straight, author of Mecca and In the Country of Women

About the Author

Ellen Estilai has spent much of her career collaborating with artists, writers, and agencies to strengthen communities through the arts. She has served as the executive director of the Riverside Arts Council and the Arts Council for San Bernardino County, and has taught English language, literature, and writing in universities in Iran and California. Her essays, short stories, and poetry have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies. Her chapbook, Museum of Missing Things, is forthcoming from Jamii Publications in 2023. Because Ellen and her husband have been immigrants in each other's countries, her writing frequently explores the joys and tribulations of the immigrant experience. She lives in Riverside, California.

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