Not Without My Daughter is bad for so many reasons: excruciating plotting (what should take a paragraph takes pages to develop), poorly developed characters, and an utterly and totally unsympathetic protagonist.
The whole point of the novel is to gain the reader’s sympathy for Betty, held hostage with her daughter in Iran by her husband, and through our hoped-for-sympathy to drum up anti-Iranian sentiments. Except Betty is the least sympathetic character I’ve encountered. Which is saying something because she is, according to the account here, held hostage, beaten, denied communication with others, and forced to have sex with her husband. And yet still I couldn’t care about Betty. In fact, if I’m being wholly honest I’d say I sometimes wanted Betty to stay trapped in Iran because I thought she sort of deserved to be miserable by virtue of her absolute self-absorption. And that was the really surprising part. For a book purportedly about a mother’s devotion to her child such that when given escape options she doesn’t take them for fear of losing her child, Betty embodies the sort of selfishness usually associated with sociopaths. She’s just. so. terrible.
I felt embarrassed reading the book on the bus for fear those around me might think I in any way endorsed or connected the anti-Muslim sentiments of the book, the racism against Persians, the pro-American propaganda. But more than embarrassed I felt sad that such a book so filled with hate, prejudice and racism had been published to such wide popularity (now a feature film starring Sally Field).
Disgusted by the content, troubled by the popularity, dismayed by the total lack of literary merit, I can only say that Not Without My Daughter is so much worse than bad.