Mahtob Mahmoody: My escape from hell

Cynthia Wang

The daughter of bestselling American author Betty Mahmoody says she has forgiven her father for the torment he put her through.

Mahtob Mahmoody was six years old when she and Betty fled from Iran. Betty was escaping an abusive husband, and later recounted her terrifying ordeal in her 1987 bestseller, Not Without My Daughter (later made into a film starring Sally Field).

“My teachers and my mum helped me learn to forgive and remember the love that we had as a family,” Mahtob, 36, tells WHO.

Mahtob lived with her mother and father, Sayed, in the US before Sayed took them on what he said was a holiday to his native Iran in 1984. But Sayed became violently abusive and took away Betty and Mahtob’s passports, holding them captive in Iran for 18 months before they escaped.

“I went from being Daddy’s girl to being my mom’s guard,” says Mahtob, who has now written her own memoir, My Name Is Mahtob. “I would hear the sound of his angry footsteps coming down the hall and I would be terrified he would kill her.”

Sally Field portrayed Betty Mahmoody in the 1991 movie 'Not Without My Daughter'

The pair escaped on Jan. 29, 1986, but it wasn’t easy. “The US embassy didn’t really believe that it was possible to come over the mountains on horseback and on foot,” she says. “And there was martial law and a curfew, so we couldn’t be on the streets and if we were caught, we didn’t have valid passports and would have been sent back to Iran. It was scary.”

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