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Lunch » Tags » Books » Reviews » Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books » User review

A gloriously subersive history

  • Sep 2, 2006
Rating:
+5
"Reading Lolita in Tehran" (RLT) is a Persian variation on "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich." Both are about surviving cruel, arbitrary tyrants.

There was a brilliant essay on RLT in the July 19, 2004 "Washington Post" entitled "Sorry, Wrong Chador." At the time, Nafisi's book had not even been translated into Persian, but Iranians still had opinions about it:

"The problem, several Iranians said in interviews, is that Nafisi left Tehran seven years ago. Her highly personal account of 18 years living under the mullahs is as absorbing a history as might be found of this place in that time. But it ends precisely at what most people here call the dawn of a new era in Iran, the 1997 landslide election of Mohammad Khatami as president."

Some may believe it dated, but "Reading Lolita in Tehran," just like Solzhenitsyn's classic, is actually timeless. Nafisi's mullahs may be history, just as Stalin's labor camps are now history, but somewhere in the world people are still unjustly imprisoned. Somewhere in the world women are still treated as non-citizens.

Iran itself is not yet a paradise for women. The Iranian Nobel peace prize winner, Shirin Ebadi has recently received death threats for her 'un-Islamic' behavior--she is the cofounder of the Tehran-based Center of Human Rights Defenders, which was banned by the Interior Ministry. Iranian women are still fighting for free access to public places such as universities and coffee shops. The police periodically campaign against 'un-Islamic' dress.

As far as I know, it is still legal to marry a nine-year-old girl in Iran, a practice Nafisi fiercely condemns--and this brings us back to "Lolita" and why Nabokov's book was so popular with Nafisi's students.

My own impression of "Lolita" was 'silly nymphet with heart-shaped sunglasses seduces helpless adult male'. Yukk! I had never actually read it or seen the movie.

Nafisi points out that my synopsis was completely wrong. It should have read, 'powerful adult male kills young girl's mother and takes complete control of his stepdaughter, even to the point of renaming her (Lolita's real name was 'Dolores'.) He forces her to conform to his most intimate fantasies, and if he is in some way disappointed, he blames and punishes her.

Humbert Humbert reminds Nafisi's students of various males who had abused them, including the mullahs who were then in power. One student was sent to prison because a male caught a glimpse of her neck and found it highly erotic. There are some very sad stories in this book about the abuse of women and the stunting of human relationships, all in the name of religion and power.

But RLT also pays tribute to the vitality and teaching power of Western and Persian literature. I had never realized how gloriously subversive Jane Austin's novels were until I read Nafasi. Tyrants should never rest easy on their thrones if their subjects can read Austen, Nabokov, Henry James, or even Mark Twain. This book really opened my eyes as to why fiction should be read. It can be even more dangerous than books about making bombs.

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More Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Me... reviews
review by . July 06, 2010
When I first started Azar Nafisi's Reading Lolita in Tehran, I was excited to discover for myself what this #1 New York Times Bestseller was all about, and as a big fan of memiors, the "Memoir in Books" intrigued me.  However, never having read Nabokov's Lolitia, which is referred to in the first of four sections, I didn't immediately connect with the book.  I even wondered whether I should continue reading or search for something new, but I was incredibly glad …
Quick Tip by . July 06, 2010
interesting look into a different culture
Quick Tip by . June 10, 2010
Interesting perspective from a different cultural standpoint.
Quick Tip by . December 02, 2009
Another book that deserved all the popularity and praise. A rare glimpse into the other side of Tehran -- the bohemians, feminists, etc.
review by . April 23, 2009
"Reading Lolita in Tehran" is an account of the education of a select group of women in Iran during the Islamic revolution. It is certainly interesting to see the changes in the culture as the extremist regime comes to power and forces the women to "lose themselves" to the dominant culture. These women start to wear the veil and give up the freedoms and the things that make them individuals.      This book is interesting with respect to women's rights, middle eastern culture, …
review by . April 12, 2009
Reading Lolita in Tehran" (RLT) is a Persian variation on "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich." Both are about surviving cruel, arbitrary tyrants.     There was a brilliant essay on RLT in the July 19, 2004 "Washington Post" entitled "Sorry, Wrong Chador." At the time, Nafisi's book had not even been translated into Persian, but Iranians still had opinions about it:     "The problem, several Iranians said in interviews, is that Nafisi left Tehran seven …
review by . November 29, 2008
Nafisi's memoir is a mixed bag. Her device--using the great novels she has studied and taught throughout her career as pegs for a memoir about modern Iran--is effective, but her professorship constantly gets in the way. She is bent on forcing her students and readers to see novels her way and to see her world through her lens. That said, she also offers a great deal of insight on what it means to live under the Islamic dictatorship that is post-revolutionary Iran, and many of her quotes from literature …
review by . September 12, 2006
"Reading Lolita in Tehran" (RLT) is a Persian variation on "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich." Both are about surviving cruel, arbitrary tyrants.    There was a brilliant essay on RLT in the July 19, 2004 "Washington Post" entitled "Sorry, Wrong Chador." At the time, Nafisi's book had not even been translated into Persian, but Iranians still had opinions about it:    "The problem, several Iranians said in interviews, is that Nafisi left Tehran seven …
review by . July 28, 2006
"Reading Lolita in Tehran" is an account of the education of a select group of women in Iran during the Islamic revolution. It is certainly interesting to see the changes in the culture as the extremist regime comes to power and forces the women to "lose themselves" to the dominant culture. These women start to wear the veil and give up the freedoms and the things that make them individuals.    This book is interesting with respect to women's rights, middle eastern culture, and …
About the reviewer
Elaine Lovitt ()
Ranked #174
I'm a retired geek whose goal is to move to Discworld and apprentice myself to Granny Weatherwax. I have degrees in Astronomy and Computer Science, but was seduced by the Dark Side a few years before … more
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An inspired blend of memoir and literary criticism,Reading Lolita in Tehranis a moving testament to the power of art and its ability to change and improve people's lives. In 1995, after resigning from her job as a professor at a university in Tehran due to repressive policies, Azar Nafisi invited seven of her best female students to attend a weekly study of great Western literature in her home. Since the books they read were officially banned by the government, the women were forced to meet in secret, often sharing photocopied pages of the illegal novels. For two years they met to talk, share, and "shed their mandatory veils and robes and burst into color." Though most of the women were shy and intimidated at first, they soon became emboldened by the forum and used the meetings as a springboard for debating the social, cultural, and political realities of living under strict Islamic rule. They discussed their harassment at the hands of "morality guards," the daily indignities of living under the Ayatollah Khomeini's regime, the effects of the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s, love, marriage, and life in general, giving readers a rare inside look at revolutionary Iran. The books were always the primary focus, however, and they became "essential to our lives: they were not a luxury but a necessity," she writes.

 

Threaded into the memoir are trenchant discussions of the work of Vladimir Nabokov, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Jane Austen, and other ...

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ISBN-10: 081297106X
ISBN-13: 978-0812971064
Author: Azar Nafisi
Genre: Religion & Spirituality
Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks
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