Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books
Reading Lolita in Tehran A Memoir in Books Author:Azar Nafisi We all have dreams—things we fantasize about doing and generally never get around to. This is the story of Azar Nafisi’s dream and of the nightmare that made it come true. — For two years before she left Iran in 1997, Nafisi gathered seven young women at her house every Thursday morning to read and discuss forbidden works of Western l... more »iterature. They were all former students whom she had taught at university. Some came from conservative and religious families, others were progressive and secular; several had spent time in jail. They were shy and uncomfortable at first, unaccustomed to being asked to speak their minds, but soon they began to open up and to speak more freely, not only about the novels they were reading but also about themselves, their dreams and disappointments. Their stories intertwined with those they were reading—Pride and Prejudice, Washington Square, Daisy Miller and Lolita—their Lolita, as they imagined her in Tehran.
Nafisi’s account flashes back to the early days of the revolution, when she first started teaching at the University of Tehran amid the swirl of protests and demonstrations. In those frenetic days, the students took control of the university, expelled faculty members and purged the curriculum. When a radical Islamist in Nafisi’s class questioned her decision to teach The Great Gatsby, which he saw as an immoral work that preached falsehoods of “the Great Satan,” she decided to let him put Gatsby on trial and stood as the sole witness for the defense.
Azar Nafisi’s luminous tale offers a fascinating portrait of the Iran-Iraq war viewed from Tehran and gives us a rare glimpse, from the inside, of women’s lives in revolutionary Iran. It is a work of great passion and poetic beauty, written with a startlingly original voice.« less
It took me a few chapters to get into "Reading Lolita". I thought it was going to be a strict memoir, and when she digressed into these elaborate dissertations on (especially Lolita), I found myself getting bored. Now, I'm not one to ever eschew an intellectual conversation or debate on anything, but I really wanted to hear about the girls and their lives and Azar Nafisi's life in this horrible theocratic regime. I also wanted to know how they managed to get away with reading such blasphemous stuff. When Azar Nafisi talked of these things, I couldn't put the book down, but when she started on her diatribes and nuanced descriptions of "Lolita", Nabokov, Fitzgerald and Austen, I found my mind wandering. I suppose if I had picked up a book entitled, "The In-Depth Analysis of Vladimir Nabokov and Lolita", I wouldn't have felt that way, but as you know, this isn't that book. As the book progressed, I really did have affection for some of the characters, and I truly felt scared for them and hoped that this book didn't have a horrible ending like all the women getting executed. Luckily, we didn't have to deal with that, but I wish Azar Nafisi would write a book just talking about the lives and feelings and situations of young women in Iran, so that people in the United States can really figure out what's going on over there. Unfortunately, I believe that would be hard for Nafisi to do. She is definitely an intellectual, and I think her interest lies in absolutely dissecting fiction in a way that no one else is really interested in.
Finally, I do believe this book is worth reading. I learned some things about what was going on when the Ayatollah was in power, things I didn't realize and I did find myself sort of missing "the girls" after reading the last page and closing the book.
This is not a badly written book. I kept losing interest in it - Anyone over the age of 30 is aware of the oppression that women in Iran suffered upon the Revolution. The problem I had with it is that in order to fully comprehend this story, the literature discussed in this memoir should be fresh in the reader's head. Unfortunately, I haven't read stories such as The Great Gatsby or Lolita in years, and didn't want to reread these stories solely for the sake of Nafisi's book.
I was really looking forward to reading this book, but when I started I found it somewhat boring. I have never read Lolita, so I guess this started me off on the wrong foot. I wanted to read more about the women and their lives in Iran than the discussions in their bookclub. I am posting this book but will try to finish before it goes.
I tried very hard to read this book. I usually read a minimum of 50 pages before deciding I don't like a book. I gave this book about 100 pages and still couldn't find it worth my time. It was a big disappointment to me as I was anxious to learn more about the women and the challenges they faced. Instead, for my tastes, too much of the book was being devoted to a critique of the books the women in the group read. I wanted to read more about the women and less about the books.
I left this book with a renewed sense of strength and an amplified connection to the collective of women on our planet. How these goddesses of Iran deal with such oppression is something every woman and man should appreciate. Though it may not be fraught with "action" as some may want, I found this book to be an impossible to put down read...stick with it if you are having trouble beeing pulled in. The empathy will pour out of you as you read, especially for those with open hearts & minds.
This book is nominally about a group of women who gather in Tehran after the fall of the Shah and the imposition of restrictions on women's movements and activities, to read and discuss Western literature. While that provides a framework, the book is mostly the memoir of their instructor, an Iranian-born, American-educated woman who watches in sorrow and horror as her country descends into chaos, violence, and represseion. Readers who are not familiar with the literary works they discuss may be hampered, and the members of the reading group never achieved full identity for me.
Elle H. (Smellen) reviewed Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books on
This was a beautiful book which gave me insight and appreciation for the freedome we have in the US. Azar Nafisi is also an excellent speaker and global citizen. I recommend this book and would read another one of her books in the future. I read this with a book club and that also helped in understanding it. I would recommend for book club reading.
I liked: How do U know when your country is being taken over by facists? I've been wondering that for a long time. Nafisi tells that through watching it happen. Her story against the background of the takeover of Tehran. Now I understand.
Didn't like: Verbose. Too much of a professor talking to students ie me. Distant, lack of emotion. I am ordering her next book which, hopefully will include me, the reader into the emotions of her life.
I consider myself a relatively uninformed American regarding Iran and it's history or current situation. Other than a friend I worked with ("I am Persian" she said with pride.), I had very little personal attachment or knowledge of the country.
Last summer just around the time I signed up for Twitter, I began following OxfordGirl during the Iranian unrest that began then. I read about their attempts to organize and being clubbed by Basiji on motorcycles, dressed in black. I saw the videos that made it out of the things they spoke of. I made my location appear as if it was from Iran as well in order to shield those who were there from being dragged out of their apartments at night once the government figured out who had Twitter acces or had submitted cell phone video to the world. I saw the Nadia video as it came out and was nauseous and incredulous that I had watched her death.
I read as OxfordGirl moved from not wanting to call what was happening in Iran a "revolution" (Sea of Green it was referred to first), then wanting just Ahmahdinajad removed, then some clerics and Ahmadi, and then desire for a secular government and calling themselves the Green Revolution.
The voice of Azar Nafisi in tis book and OxfordGirl have become one to me, because they both deal with the same fights, the same subtle but soul-killing indignities. Tehran University, where the author taught, had a big green metal double gate that marked the entrance to the university, but only the men could enter there. Beside it was a narrow black-curtain covered doorway and women were stripped down to assure that they dressed in appropriate ways. Did a strand of hair fall out from under the chador? Their faces were wiped to discover the remanants of makeup. Nail polish was checked for.
Azar's young sixth grade daughter was lead to the principals office to be checked, her nails clipped so short that they bled. Her friend was accused of eating an apple in a provacative way.
At the same time, Azar is an English professor and carries such a love of literature that it is difficult, even for me, an English major in school, to understand. She idolizes the literature and constantly see the connections in it to their lives in Tehran.
Because she was considered a Westernized trouble-maker because she had attended college in the United States, she was constantly monitored and harrassed as she taught. Minders attended her classes, criticizing novel choices and her teaching methods. When she finally quit her teaching, she decided to finally have the class she had always wanted with a hand-picked group of her best students, meeting at her home. Each day they arrived, having to be accompanied by their fathers, husbands or brothers or they may end up in the worse prison in Tehran. Only in her apartment did they dare take off their chador. The novel begins remarking of the transformation of these girls, who became women in the six years of the class, from amorphous black-chador-clad indistinguishable icons --to brightly dressed, blue-jeaned women.
I may have had more patience for the English literature-inspired commentary running through the novel. In fact, having never read Lolita, I wonder if I will interpret it the way all others have--a promiscuous child seducing a man, or a monster 40 year old man abusing and 12 year old girl, not listening to her crying, accusing her of being the sin that was in his soul. The novel becomes the central image that represents the society: the unbridled sexual abuse of men who projected their own misshapen souls onto the women around them.
This is a Persian Baby Boomer with much of the idealism of the hippy generation--transplanted back to Iran. In one critical chapter, Iran is likened to The Great Gatsby where all one's hopes and distorted realities are seen in what they do not have. The realist in me feels it will never be the vision of Iran they have vaguely see in their imaginations. It will confound them, destroy them if they are not allowed to actually live without having to kill off the feeling part of them in order to survive in the society. There is another chapter (or many) to be written.