Talla Spaul’s memoir Struggle recounts the determination and survival of a successful Iranian doctor.
Once living an upper-echelon life, Spaul’s life plummeted to that of second-class citizen after the Iranian Revolution. Worse, she faced death threats for continuing to practice medicine as a woman in post-revolutionary theocratic Iran. Spaul found life increasingly impossible, even though her husband benefited from the new regime. Eventually, she and her sons emigrated to be near her sister in Florida; her husband stayed behind.
Spaul endured many hardships, including theft, betrayal, divorce (she married twice), infidelity, and financial insecurity. But despite such problems, and even surviving breast cancer, she resurrected her life with remarkable determination, becoming an executive of an environmental testing firm and learning to trust the kindness of strangers, as well as that of her sister and brother-in-law, who helped her from the start.
Despite the author’s interesting struggles, however, the story suffers from several issues. The narrative is often repetitive, such as when revisiting the same details about Spaul’s financial problems or her husband’s infidelity. In addition, with its tendency to tell rather than show, the memoir often reads as an accounting or inventory of a life, rather than an artfully crafted tale.
Fortunately, there is some relief in rare instances when the author becomes more emotionally engaged, such as when she meets a doctor and Italian priest who gives her a home and support as she studies for certification to practice medicine in America, or when she encounters Chinese Grand Master Zhu upon traveling to China to study Qigong, a practice whose benefits she discovered while recovering from cancer. Studying with one of the world’s foremost Qigong teachers, Spaul becomes more present and visceral. On her first meeting with Zhu, she writes, “When I entered the room, I knew he was aware of me, but his eyes were barely open.”
The book’s storytelling limitations are likely to hinder its appeal. Nevertheless, those who like to cheer for the underdog and see her succeed may appreciate this memoir.