Read a full summary of Lost Without My Daughter, written by Sayed Mahmoody, right here! This page is full of spoilers, so beware. If you are wondering what happened in Lost Without My Daughter, then you are in the right place!
Special thanks to Sarina Byron, a BSR contributor who wrote this great recap! Sarina is a British Author and Contributing Writer living in California. Sarina enjoys bringing forth a different perspective and encouraging a different way of thinking through her writing. Visit her blog to read her reviews, and check the end of the review for a link to her Instagram.
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***** Everything below is a SPOILER *****
What happened in Lost Without My Daughter?
Trigger Warning: This recap is true to the books’ themes of violence, racism, Islamophobia, abuse, gaslighting, PTSD, emotional trauma, and kidnapping.
Moody’s book begins with his last memory with Mahtob: making a snowman. Moody had to leave to tend to a patient in need at the hospital and came home to an empty home.
Months later, he saw Betty on the news, speaking about her escape through the Zagros Mountains, which he claimed was practically impossible. The mountains were steep, dusty, and inhabitable. Her claim of having traveled through them in the winter made it harder to believe as the perpendicular mountains are covered in snow. Moody was given a copy of Not Without My Daughter, and he raged at the sight of accusations she levied upon him.
He denied her claims of lack of personal and home hygiene, his sister’s unfriendly behavior, and episodes of abuse and assault. Farik, his friend at the hospital, told him not to worry as no one would believe the book. The opposite began to occur, and the book gained momentum. Betty began to receive bravery awards.
Moody began to feel the ripple effects in Iran. People held him responsible for Iran’s loss of reputation, to the extent that he received a letter from the Islamic Society affirming the same. Farik told him his name had been added to a blacklist, and he should leave Tehran. Moody didn’t believe him until he was visited by a man from the government. He panicked and began to regret his decision to ever come back.
After the man’s visit, Moody was followed by two men all the time. His chance to escape came when Ayatollah Khomeini passed away overnight. The entire country swelled with sorrow, and they entered a five-day mourning period. Moody made his way to the city of Arak in the middle of all this chaos. Farik helped Moody get a job as a doctor in Arak. Moody got to work helping war veterans with their injuries. Moody decided to bide his time until the furor over the book died down. He planned to then contact Betty and Mahtob, but the movie was announced instead.
The movie made everything worse. Betty was portrayed as innocent and helpless by Sally Field. Alfred Molina played Moody despite being the complete opposite physically. The movie also portrayed all Iranians as filthy wife beaters who unanimously hated the United States.
The movie had unfortunate timing as well. It was released days before the Gulf War. Moody was relieved to read Vincent Canby of the New York Times describe the movie as biased, agenda-driven, and clumsy. He emphasized Betty’s reaction to the Iranian Revolution sounds more like a personal affront. Owen Gleiberman of the Entertainment Weekly wrote of the choppy plot and lack of insight into Moody’s character.
Moody had another visit from the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance. Moody cringed at the idea. This department controlled everything, especially movies produced by the Republic. The man spoke about the standards of filmmaking and referred to the movie, Not Without My Daughter. He declared those watching it were laughing at it, and Moody must begin using it as an example of an indoctrination tool. Moody was no fan of the idea, but it gave him an opportunity to redeem himself. He believed people had liked the book, but the movie had put them off.
He returned to Tehran and joyfully reunited with his family. He settled into an apartment between the hospital and the university and started planning his lessons. Moody engaged the help of an Iranian director who had been banned from working after the revolution to shortlist a set of scenes that would drive the point home. Moody was nervous, particularly about the reaction of the women in the audience.
Moody thought back to the day they had landed in Iran. He was nervous about coming back as he felt more Western than Iranian now. Much like the history of his people, his own was complicated. His parents were both doctors and had cared for Allied troops in Tehran during the Second World War. His family lived on the island of Shustar near the Iran/Iraq border in those days. The Allies were bringing their injured from India and beyond to Shustar, where Moody’s parents were among the many doctors who trained them.
It was during this time Moody’s father contracted typhoid from one of his English patients and passed away. Moody’s mother followed him soon after from lung disease. He went to live with his older sister Ameh in Korramshahr, a wealthy, cosmopolitan town in southern Iran. Moody was a great student and performed exceptionally at school. His family debated between sending him to Tehran University, which was notoriously tough to get into, or to the UK. The Shah of Iran encouraged Iranian students to seek education abroad in an effort to modernize them. The Shah bore many titles, and his picture was everywhere in Iran. His list of faults grew immeasurably after the war.
The Shah alienated Iran’s ancient cultures, spoke French better than Farsi, launched a “White Revolution,” which failed miserably, and introduced western restaurants, cinemas, and games to Iran. He alienated and targeted Iranian mullahs and spent over $200 million on a festival honoring Iranian monarchy. This was the political climate Moody left behind to move to the UK.
After finishing school in Kensington, Moody studied Civil Engineering at the City of Westminster College. The space race had just begun, and Moody was desperate to be a part of it. He daydreamed during his classes and wrote letters to every company that had anything at all to do with NASA. His quest made him think of the US as the moon itself.
Moody had almost given up when an envelope arrived from the States inviting him to join a company contracted by NASA. He was invited to join a group of engineers to design the release mechanism for the separation systems of the Gemini and Apollo rockets. Moody was prepared to go anywhere for this job, and Missouri seemed as good a place as any. He joyfully told Ameh about this new opportunity. She was thrilled for him but knew with certainty he wasn’t going back anytime soon. She knew this opportunity was unimaginable to most Iranians, and as such, he must take it.
Moody found it difficult to speak to Ameh without missing home terribly. Once in Missouri, he lost track of all memories and emotions. They got busy with design work and watched every moment of the takeoff toward the moon. Although the vehicle was American, Moody worked with people of every nationality to bring this mission to life.
It was in the States that Moody saw hippies for the first time. The men looked like a cross between the Shah and Sindbad the Sailor. The women looked stunning in their long hair and short dresses. Moody settled into work and stayed busy, but he never settled in socially. His dating life especially suffered, and he began to feel lonely.
It was a politically charged time as well. The Cold War was heating up, Kennedy was assassinated, and the Ayatollah called for the Shah to go. Thousands responded to his call by flooding the streets of Iran, only to be attacked by the Shah’s Royal Guard. The Ayatollah was placed under house arrest and subsequently exiled to Paris. This sowed the seeds of the revolution.
Life was considerably slower after the moon mission, and Moody missed having parents to advise him. He wished his parents were around to “interfere” as his colleagues’ parents did in their lives. This void caused him to consider a more humanitarian profession than his current one, and he became a doctor. He met Betty during his residency at Carson City Hospital.
Moody recalled the moments after the plane with him, Betty, and Mahtob aboard landed in Tehran. Moody’s nephew Zia met them inside the airport. Customs agents didn’t trust them on account of being American and held back all their luggage except for a small bag of clothes.
Moody was shocked at the number of people who came to receive them. Everyone admired Mahtob and Betty’s beauty, and they all headed home in a Chevy decorated with flowers. Moody noticed Tehran was overrun with soldiers, and all the women wore chador. Moody’s family explained the crowd was due to the President leading Friday prayers in the town center. They said not everyone was fanatical enough to pray in the center of town.
A large catering team had been employed to serve all the guests. Everyone repeatedly told Moody how fortunate he was with his beautiful wife and daughter.
Their room was as big as an apartment, rooms beautifully furnished with dark hardwood furniture and an all-marble bathroom. The bathroom was equipped with a bath, shower, toilet, and bidet. Betty and Mahtob were gifted gold bracelets and chadors in delicate colors. Betty was uncomfortable with the number of people, and sitting on the floor in her tight skirt was difficult. She was relieved to see Reza, who had stayed with them in the States, and his English- speaking wife Essay. When she developed a headache, Betty cut the evening short and headed to bed with Mahtob.
Moody thought back to when he had met Betty. She arrived at the hospital with a chronic headache and was entrusted to Moody’s care for Osteopathic Medical Therapy (OMT). Moody didn’t normally find himself in situations with romantic undertones, so he completely missed Betty’s hints. A colleague pointed out her obvious interest in him.
Moody thought Betty was stunning, although she wasn’t beautiful in the strictest sense of the word. They began dating, and it was around this time Moody moved to Detroit for his internship. They drove three and a half hours to see each other on weekends. For Moody’s 39th birthday, Betty piled his house full of friends, Iranian food, wine, and joy. That was the first time Moody told Betty he loved her.
On their first morning in Iran, Baba Hajji, Ameh Bozorg’s husband, came to fetch Moody for the dawn prayers. Moody returned to bed after prayers, but Baba Hajji kept reciting from the Koran. His voice interrupted Betty and Moody’s sleep, and they were wide awake by the time he headed to work.
Moody went to breakfast after a shower, and Betty joined him soon after, albeit in a sour mood. Ameh worried if she had offended Betty, but Moody explained it away as morning grumpiness. Betty took offense to them speaking in Farsi and wasn’t satisfied with Moody’s explanation of what had been said. Majid walked in just then and suggested they go sightseeing to the Shah’s palace and shopping. Betty brightened at the idea of shopping as extravagant gifts always brightened her mood. The day turned into another endless visit by friends and relatives. Moody was exhausted by the endless visits now.
Reza put on the English news in the evening, and Betty’s face grew thunderous as they rattled off propaganda against America. The news claimed Americans were dying of junk food and AIDS. Their divorce rates were through the roof as was their drug usage. The facts of social evils were exaggerated out of proportion. Moody tried to change the channel, but Betty insisted on watching with a thunderous face. Moody translated every bit of Farsi spoken around Betty, but after the news incident, they could do nothing right. Betty became critical of everything, from their personal hygiene to their attitude towards her.
Betty also found the armed police roaming the streets quite unnerving. Moody reminded her every American cop carried a gun.
The Shah’s police were replaced by the Ayatollah’s moral police, who recognized the Shah was not defended by his own forces as they weren’t loyal enough. He fixed that within his own government by asking for volunteers for the Pasdaran and gave them real powers. The volunteers came from religious and working-class neighborhoods, and their role rapidly grew to one of extreme power and influence. They formed their own army and navy, and masters of the Iranian economy. Doing business in Iran meant doing business with the Pasdaran. Joining them gave one immediate influence and a life of comfort. The most formidable amongst the moral police part of the Pasdaran were the women enforcers of good values and behavior.
Shopping in Iran was an experience for the entire family. Everyone they met was extremely friendly, and their taxi driver freely shared the details of his life and family. He softened Betty’s heart towards the ordinary Iranian after the news segment she had watched. The taxi driver insisted they noy pay him for the journey. Moody translated this for Betty, and she readily agreed and nearly walked away. Moody laughed and explained this is how it was done in Iran, relationships were valued above money, but the necessary payments were always made.
Betty had just encountered tarof. Tarof is an extreme form of hospitality and politeness exhibited towards each other in daily life. Moody Explained how tarof seeped into business, weddings, and politics. To the Western eye, tarof appears as sneaky underhandedness, and when combined with gholov (boastful exaggeration), it seems deceptive.
Moody considered himself guilty of gholov as he liked to let people know as soon as he met them that he was a doctor. Betty disliked this habit, but to Moody, it didn’t seem so different from the American habit of inquiring what people do in order to place them in an income bracket.
The third Iranian concept Moody explains is that of haq. Haq extends to various rights enjoyed by people. Iranins hold it against the US that they helped overthrow the only democracy known in Iran in 1953 to replace it with the Shah. They believed it was their right to enjoy a democracy much like the one the US would like to see in Iran today. Moody does acknowledge that with Iran’s lack of experience with democracy, any elected leader would soon turn dictatorial.
Betty was shoved into the world of tarof, gholov and haq and understandably tripped up. Many a times, she walked away without paying due to the insistence of the shopkeepers and restaurateurs. Nevertheless, shopping was joyful. Moody remembers acquiring everything Betty fancied, and they drank a great amount of tea with their new acquaintances. The joy came to a head when Moody turned one day to find Pasdar screaming at Betty.
Moody was shocked when he first visited Betty. She lived in a teardown house with her two sons and two adopted daughters. Just out of an abusive marriage with a farm laborer, she was working at a door-hinge factory to provide for them. Moody “adopted” her family and spoiled them.
Moody’s family was practically royalty, and as such, her life was quite a shock to him. He wrote to his sister and told her about Betty. She insisted, as always, that he come back and live with his family in Iran. He believed himself to carry the fear every Iranian man carries: that once he goes back, he won’t be able to leave again.
They decided to get married on one of Betty’s visits to Corpus Christi. Moody shared that she would have to be a Muslim to marry him, and Betty readily agreed. She sent Joe and John to live with their father and Lynn and Lori to live with a “distant aunt.” She admitted having kept them only for the benefits payments.
Betty and Moody settled into Corpus Christi and founded the Islamic Society of South Texas. [This could not be verified via the website.] Betty settled into the life of a doctor’s wife quite well.
Moody disliked visiting her family, whom he found to be immensely crass. As far as he understood, Betty didn’t relish her visits either. He had witnessed Betty’s father throwing a plate of food at her mother. However, they had to head back up to Michigan for Betty’s sister’s wedding.
When Betty was getting dressed, Moody learned from Lynn and Lori that their aunt didn’t feed them, and they hated living with her. The boys, Joe and John, shared that their father beat them regularly, and they disliked being with him. He asked Betty if she knew all this, and she broke out into an epileptic fit. She sufficiently recovered by the time the wedding began.
Moody was shocked to see Betty’s sister was only sixteen and pregnant by the man she was about to marry. Yet Betty asked Lori and Lynn to take up residence with their boyfriends. But she agreed Joe and John could come live with them. When they moved in, Betty cried at the drop of a hat and offered to let Moody beat her if she didn’t do something right. He was aghast at this behavior as it went against his religious, moral, and medical fabric.
Betty used all their savings to pay off her parents’ mortgage. She handled the business side of Moody’s practice, and when her father struggled to keep up his payments, she simply took care of it without telling Moody.
At Moody’s insistence, Lori and Lynn finally moved back in with them. He came home one day to find Betty yelling at John to “teach Lori a lesson” for getting pregnant by her boyfriend.
The revolution in Iran had begun by now, and Moody kept a keen eye on the developments.
He was told by a fellow doctor’s wife one day that Betty told her Moody beat her, and she had run away with his savings.
Moody raced home to find Betty packing her clothes and cash in a suitcase. She had withdrawn $200,000 from their account. She started crying when she saw Moody and professed that she didn’t want to do it. Moody wondered where this compulsion came from. He was aware that before he entered her life, she had mainly relied on charity to pay her bills. Perhaps this was her mind’s way of coping with the sudden changes in her circumstances.
Meanwhile, the Shah’s regime was nearing collapse, and the effects would soon impact Moody and Betty.
Moody would normally pick Mahtob up from school, but one day he found Betty at the school. She claimed the school had called her because Mahtob had been crying. Mahtob shared she was afraid of being taken away from Betty. When Moody inquired what prompted that fear, Betty yelled at him to leave Mahtob alone.
From that day on, Betty’s theories of Iran being dirty and their food being full of bugs began to originate. Her attitude began to push Moody’s family away from them. Moody realized he needed to speak to Betty about this, but he couldn’t. He realized she was under great pressure to conform. Moody didn’t know how to encourage her, and she had no desire to do so. While Moody was away at the ministry every day, Betty stayed locked in her room with Mahtob, refusing to engage with the family.
Organizing Mahtob’s birthday party was no different. Betty insisted on having it during the week despite it being inconvenient for everyone at work. Many people took the day off to attend, and everyone was grateful for the momentary distraction from the war. Although Tehran was far from the border, they suffered air raids. Betty would exhibit hysteria instead of calm, frightening Mahtob in the process.
Betty traveled to Michigan to visit her sick father. Moody noticed she was fidgety when he drove her to the airport, but he didn’t know that she had withdrawn all their savings again and was taking off with it. When Moody didn’t hear from her much after she would have landed, he called often. Betty’s father got short with each call of his.
When Moody discovered she had taken off with their money, he was devastated. He had been betrayed by a loved one. Moody called Harold and told him that if Betty didn’t call him back, he would report her theft to the police and sue for divorce, thus denying her all rights to property.
Harold asked him to act hastily and sought reassurance. This proved Betty was indeed at her parents’ place. The next day, Moody’s colleague came to visit him and told him Betty was pregnant and sorry for her actions. Moody didn’t know why she chose to tell him through his colleague, but he was thrilled nevertheless.
Moody was growing tired of never-ending scrutiny from the Iraninan authorities. They suspected his reasons for returning and refused to give him a license. He wanted to go back, but Betty encouraged him to stay. She argued Mahtob was top of her class, and they should try for a little longer. Moody resolved to try longer, and it paid off when he finally got his license. He ordered a new car to celebrate his job, and it was around then Betty started her vitriol against Iranians again. When Moody objected to her saying all this in front of Mahtob, Betty hit him.
Betty called Moody at the hospital the next day and recited an Islamic prayer over and over. He cut her off mid-sentence and asked her to come home so they could speak. She arrived the next day, and they decided to start afresh. Betty gifted him an Iranian flag, and he fashioned her an extra-long stethoscope so she could listen to the baby’s heartbeats.
Moody was overjoyed when Betty went into labor. He watched the doctors closely as they sedated her. He lost all his enthusiasm, however, when in her sedated state, Betty told him he wasn’t the first doctor who she had had a baby with.
Betty struck Moody again and scratched his face while yelling that Mahtob wasn’t his. When Moody fought back, she ran into their room to show Mahtob he had been attacking her. She calmed down the next day, and they resumed their move into a large luxurious apartment. Moody planned to set up his practice in the guest suite there. Once in their new place, Moody was hoping to spend more time with Mahtob, but Betty attacked him again when he tried to bring it up.
Miss Shaheem from Mahtab’s school called to say Betty was no longer welcome. She abused their official phone and separated Mahtob from the girls. To make matters worse, she recently brought a woman from the US Interests section of the Swiss Embassy.
Betty told Moody while drugged that her son John was fathered by her then doctor. As he sat thinking about what else she might have hidden from him, moonlight streamed into their room. He longed to name their daughter Mahtob, which means moonlight in Farsi. He inadvertently disregarded Betty’s choice, and Miryam became Mahtob’s middle name.
Sadly, the hostage crisis struck at this time. Iranian students held US Embassy officials against their will in Iran, and the country became famous for the wrong reason. Moody began to be called Dr. Khomeini. Iranians around the world began changing their names to sound more western.
Betty began calling Moody a fanatic and a wife beater to their friends. Whenever he tried to talk to her, she grew hysterical and left. Moody’s nephew Reza came to stay with them around this time. Betty goaded Joe and John against him. He grew increasingly uncomfortable and left. Moody thought they might do better with some distance from her family. That’s when he found the position in Michigan.
Their house in Michigan shared its back garden with Alpena Creek, where Moody spent happy hours with Mahtob. Moody was still supporting Betty’s family financially, but the mood was beginning to turn. Iran was now using volunteers and children in their war against Iraq. Moody’s conscience began to hurt at being comfortable when little children were clearing minefields in Iran.
Betty taught Joe and John to support Iraq. Their words hurt Moody every day, especially because he had performed all the duties of a father for them. A few days into this hurtful diatribe, Moody found Mahtob’s shoulder dislocated by John. He put the joint back in the socket and rushed her to the hospital to perform x-rays for further damage.
Mahtob had nightmares after this incident. Betty was infuriated by all the disturbance and yelled she wished she had gotten rid of Moody. He wondered if she had intended to take his money and abort the child when he had caught her. Had she given birth to Mahtob as a way to deflect attention from her theft? He was terribly confused as she also seemed to have enjoyed her pregnancy. Perhaps it was anesthesia that took her emotions out of control?
Betty began filling their house with relatives, oversalting his food, and putting vinegar where it didn’t belong. Moody certainly did not relish watching wrestling with her mother or joining in wind-breaking competitions with Joe and John’s father.
Moody was terribly confused about the visit from the Swiss Embassy. Betty explained it away as Miss Shaheem overreacting to a visit from their friend Shamsi. Shamsi was a mutual friend who spent half of the year in Iran and the other half in the States. She confirmed the story. When Mahtob’s teachers complimented her aptitude for learning, Betty was quick to claim that on account of American blood.
As Christmas approached, and they acquired a tree. Betty received a call from her sister Carolyn about her father being terminal. Moody suggested Betty leave immediately, and he would follow with Mahtob after her school term. Betty seemed oddly reluctant. Moody got busy acquiring tickets and signing the necessary paperwork. He gave her all the papers for their Alpena home, which was being rented. They intended to check on it while in the States. Moody accompanied Mahtob on a trip to buy school supplies for children from poor neighborhoods. That was their last trip together.
Moody lost his job to the negligence of a member of his nursing team. Betty insisted he go back to work in Detroit, which was over three hours away. On account of the distance, Moody rented an apartment, and Betty stayed back to be close to her family. One weekend when he visited, another man was walking up their driveway. Betty pretended he was a burglar who had been stalking the house and avoided the man as he rang the bell and knocked to no response. Moody’s other nephew Mohammad Ali visited them around this time and was driven away by the lack of hospitality as well.
Even before the Revolution had completely unfolded, the war broke out in Iran. Moody learned his hometown of Khorramshahr had fallen to Iraq. As the Iraqi army advanced and the Iranian Pasdaran launched a successful counterattack to take back Khorramshahr, Sadam Hussein began to inch his way towards a truce. Moody longed to go back and tend to the injured. He floated the idea to Betty, who vehemently rejected the idea before agreeing to move to Detroit and consider it. Betty insisted they rent their house before leaving, despite them having over a million in assets. Moody would agree to anything at this point, and they landed in Iran with $10,000 in cash.
Betty left Iran when Moody was tending to the victims of chemical attacks by Iraq. He called their friends, and she was nowhere to be found. She called him just once to tell him she would make contact on their own. Moody called her family in the States repeatedly to check on her whereabouts. They told him Betty had left for the States one day after his green card expired.
Betty had taken Moody’s passport as well. Getting a new passport was practically impossible in Iran. The government insisted on assuring themselves it was indeed lost before they issued a new one. Moody had it on good authority he would be waiting over six months to get one. Meanwhile, Betty filed for divorce in the States and seized all their assets. Moody received his court summons eight months after the case had been decided. He was depressed beyond measure.
Moody was jolted into his role as a physician when he saved five children from an air strike.
Moody started a job lecturing around the country about Not Without My Daughter. He explained the geography of the Zagros mountains and the impossibility of Betty having gone through them. The mountains were only ever braved by the traveling Bakhtiari tribe, who were known as People of the Wind for traversing the difficult terrain. It was an impossible space to be inhabited by a six-year-old and a woman lacking a mountaineer’s constitution.
Moody also discussed various other scenes in the story and pointed out obvious flaws in them. Most of them included claims of him beating her, but Moody demonstrated using a female student who was his height that it was impossible for someone of his stature and strength to exert that kind of assault. He pointed out Betty’s co-author, William Hoffer, had exhibited such ignorance toward Turkey, which the government had severely objected to.
The students pointed out the obvious faults in the hygiene and cleanliness theories. Moody shared the judge who served his notice by snail mail had said if Moody challenged the decision, he will definitely win. Moody understood the duality of this claim as the same judge made violent statements against Iranians after the hostage crisis.
Moody spent all his time working at the hospital, serving those injured by the war. When his passport finally arrived, the US embassy warned him against entering the States as he would be arrested. He traveled to Helsinki with the Finnish documentary maker and invited Mahtob to meet him there. He received no response from either Betty or Mahtob.
Soon after this trip, Moody’s kidneys failed, and dialysis produced limited results. He passed away 25 years after landing in Iran, almost to the day.
He held on to hope he might get to see Mahtob because Betty had said in Not Without My Daughter that she longed to be with her dying father.
There you go! That’s what happened in Lost Without My Daughter. We hope you enjoyed this Lost Without My Daughter summary with spoilers.
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3 thoughts on “What happened in Lost Without My Daughter”
The poor man! (Not!)
This summary makes no sense. It jumps back and forth between the life in America and the life in Iran.
Hi Elle! The recap follows the way the narrative is told in the book: back and forth between different viewpoints/locations/timelines. I’m sorry it’s confusing! I’m sure it’s easier to follow the back and forth when you read the novel. Thanks for your comment! 🙂