A Father’s Sto­ry: My Fight for Jus­tice Against Iran­ian Terror

  • Review
By – May 4, 2018

For many years, while wag­ing a legal bat­tle against Iran for spon­sor­ing a sui­cide bus bomb­ing in Israel that killed his daugh­ter, Alisa, Stephen M. Fla­tow has told his sto­ry. His new book, which includes mate­r­i­al not pre­vi­ous­ly pub­lished, is less an account of the trag­ic event itself than it is a sto­ry about the nature of such loss in the con­text of a par­tic­u­lar family’s his­to­ry and values.

One thread of the sto­ry is the short­ened life of Alisa: her promise, her per­son­al­i­ty, and her influ­ence on oth­ers, as a child and then as a young woman. It was Alisa, read­ers learn, who from a very young age influ­enced the fam­i­ly to ful­ly embrace Judaism and Israel. Fla­tow shows how much a par­ent can learn from a child, and how fam­i­ly mem­bers can work through their grief — though it nev­er real­ly ends.

While the nar­ra­tive gen­er­al­ly pro­ceeds from past to present, there are open­ings in the strict chronol­o­gy that reveal addi­tion­al back­ground or impart new under­stand­ings and emo­tion­al res­o­nance. These pas­sages add to the book’s impact, pro­vid­ing it with heart and wisdom.

The legal and polit­i­cal aspects of the sto­ry focus on Flatow’s deter­mi­na­tion to turn dis­as­ter and loss into pos­i­tive action. Hav­ing proven the Iran­ian government’s cul­pa­bil­i­ty, he seeks — with the help of oth­ers — an appro­pri­ate pun­ish­ment. The best that can be arranged is a finan­cial judg­ment based on Iran’s assets in the Unit­ed States; this takes a great deal of time and effort to make hap­pen. Even when the pay­ments arrive, writ­ten on U. S. gov­ern­ment accounts, Fla­tow is dis­ap­point­ed. He is also great­ly dis­ap­point­ed when Pres­i­dent Clinton’s sub­or­di­nates, striv­ing for a new arrange­ment with Iran, ask the griev­ing father to slow down and not rock the boat. How­ev­er, the break­throughs that Fla­tow make open the doors for oth­ers to launch suc­cess­ful claims against spon­sors of ter­ror­ist killings.

Flatow’s rich­ly per­son­al book not only memo­ri­al­izes his daugh­ter, but gives hope to oth­ers, as it grace­ful­ly con­veys impor­tant life lessons from the per­spec­tive of an obser­vant Jew. Fla­tow takes the time to explain Jew­ish mourn­ing cus­toms, the nature of Tal­mud study, and many oth­er aspects of his Jew­ish iden­ti­ty. His love for Judaism radi­ates through­out the book, inter­twin­ing with and reflect­ing his love for the daugh­ter he lost but will nev­er for­get. The mon­e­tary judg­ments that Fla­tow even­tu­al­ly received went pri­mar­i­ly to char­i­ties hav­ing goals con­sis­tent with Alisa’s val­ues and the choic­es she made in her short life.

Philip K. Jason is pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus of Eng­lish at the Unit­ed States Naval Acad­e­my. A for­mer edi­tor of Poet Lore, he is the author or edi­tor of twen­ty books, includ­ing Acts and Shad­ows: The Viet­nam War in Amer­i­can Lit­er­ary Cul­ture and Don’t Wave Good­bye: The Chil­dren’s Flight from Nazi Per­se­cu­tion to Amer­i­can Free­dom.

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