I Kept Walk­ing: The Unlike­ly Sto­ry of a Per­sian Woman with Polio

  • Review
By – July 18, 2022

Minou Soumekh Mich­lin is an Iran­ian Jew who was raised in the city of Tehran in the mid-twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry while King Moham­mad Reza Shah Pahlavi was in pow­er. At the age of three, she sud­den­ly con­tract­ed polio. In the 1940s and 1950s, polio would par­a­lyze or kill over half a mil­lion peo­ple world­wide each year. In Iran, this mal­a­dy was wide­ly expe­ri­enced but med­ical­ly mis­un­der­stood at the time. A doc­tor com­fort­ed Minou’s moth­er by say­ing her daughter’s polio wasn’t severe. He pre­scribed hot baths, vit­a­min B shots, mas­sages, and exer­cise. The author writes that: While the rest of me grew taller, the mus­cles on my right leg refused to grow.… I walked on my right toes with my heel raised more than an inch in the air.”

Michlin’s mem­oir, I Kept Walk­ing, is a poignant account of grow­ing up in Iran with a dis­ease that brand­ed her as less than.” As the sto­ry devel­ops, we gain insight into the author’s Per­sian par­ents, sib­lings, rel­a­tives, teach­ers, men­tors, and friends. How­ev­er, the strongest force in her life is cul­ture. Minou was raised in a coun­try with strict social and cul­tur­al con­stric­tions. Hav­ing a phys­i­cal flaw, such as a limp, auto­mat­i­cal­ly exclud­ed her from being accept­able mar­riage mate­r­i­al and stood in the way of being betrothed to any Iran­ian man of her choice.

I Kept Walk­ing is deeply inspi­ra­tional. Despite the obsta­cles com­ing from with­in and with­out, her strengths grew — devel­op­ing from the dark­est cor­ners of her life. Not only does she sur­vive but, more impres­sive­ly, she also con­quers. Hav­ing a med­ical con­di­tion that pre­vent­ed her from doing all that oth­er girls her age were doing is cer­tain­ly a hard­ship for Mich­lin. But to be raised in a cul­ture that pigeon-holed her by defin­ing her as bro­ken, defec­tive, and there­fore unen­ti­tled to a full life, is a whole oth­er mat­ter. Courage is an impor­tant theme through­out her sto­ry. With her mother’s tena­cious sup­port, Mich­lin shat­tered pro­fes­sion­al bar­ri­ers. How­ev­er, for her to mar­ry a man of her choos­ing and have a fam­i­ly of her own required a dif­fer­ent kind of strength. To tack­le this hur­dle and defy all Per­sian taboos, she enters ther­a­py and dili­gent­ly works on her inner self.

Today, Mich­lin is pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus of social work at South­ern Con­necti­cut State Uni­ver­si­ty. Pri­or to immi­grat­ing to Amer­i­ca, she worked as a social work­er in Tehran’s Jew­ish ghet­to and over­saw day cares across Iran.

As I read I Kept Walk­ing, Maya Angelou’s words kept com­ing to my mind: Courage is the most impor­tant of the virtues, because with­out it, no oth­er virtue can be prac­ticed con­sis­tent­ly.” And I hear this author also whis­per­ing between the lines: Go ahead, beat adver­si­ty. One isn’t born with courage; one prac­tices and devel­ops determination.

Esther Ami­ni is a writer, painter, and psy­cho­an­a­lyt­ic psy­chother­a­pist in pri­vate prac­tice. She is the author of the high­ly acclaimed mem­oir Con­cealed—Mem­oir of a Jew­ish Iran­ian Daugh­ter Caught Between the Chador and Amer­i­ca, and her short sto­ries have appeared in Elle, Lilith, Tablet, The Jew­ish Week, Barnard Mag­a­zine, TK University’s Inscape Lit­er­ary, and Prox­im­i­ty. She was named one of Aspen Words’ two best-emerg­ing mem­oirists and award­ed its Emerg­ing Writer Fel­low­ship in 2016. Her pieces have been per­formed by Jew­ish Women’s The­atre in Los Ange­les and in Man­hat­tan and she was cho­sen by JWT as their Artist-in-Res­i­dence in 2019.

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