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Jasmine and Stars: Reading More Than Lolita…

Jasmine and Stars: Reading More Than Lolita in Tehran

by Fatemeh Keshavarz

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A quick touch of Irani cultural history and what is currently happening there with books and culture. I enjoyed getting a different perspective on what is happening in Irani culture and literature. This was a positive look at what has happened centuries ago as well as the present. I liked being introduced to writers who lived centuries ago and those who write today. I enjoyed the look at Fatemeh Keshavarz's family and the vignettes she shared of her uncles. She brought light to the topic instead of the negative which we are usually given. Well written. It made me think. I would like to read some of the ancient authors and today's Irani authors. ( )
  Sheila1957 | Apr 5, 2016 |
I'm glad to have read this. I've only read free samples of Reading Lolita in Tehran (RLT), which Jasmine and Stars criticizes. But, as it will probably be years before I get around to it, I'll capture my reactions to this book while they're fresh:

* Jasmine and Stars argues that RLT demonizes Iran and Islam; oversimplifies the complex individuals who make up modern Iran; ignores the country's proud Persian heritage and vibrant modern literary culture; and presents Western literature as a salvation for confused and benighted young Iranians. I'm sure that's not what Azar Nafisi, RLT's author, understood herself to be doing at all. I suspect RLT is better understood as the work of an author who has experienced painful oppression and is writing about how literature has helped her and her students understand their experiences and take greater control of their internal lives.

* Keshavarz's book includes some moving and very personal anecdotes; one of her overt purposes is to offer herself as an alternative window, for an American audience, of what it can mean to be Iranian. She grew up with loving, moderate male relatives, deep exposure to Persian poetry, and no apparent difficulty reconciling (Islamic) faith and modernity. That's great as far as it goes, but doesn't invalidate Nafisi's experience.

* Perhaps more problematically, all of Keshavarz' stories reflect well on herself, which I take as a bit of a red-flag when an author is using techniques of memoir to persuade a reader.

* Keshavarz doesn't address a couple of topics that I wished she had: the distinctions that set Persian culture and faith apart from pan-Islamic culture and religion; and the ways the 1979 Revolution has changed or obliterated aspects of modern Iranian culture and cultural institutions. These might illumine a difference in frame between RLT and Jasmine and Stars. My hunch is that in RLT, Nafisi pours out her scorn on the Revolution in part because of the damage she has seen it do to the Persian cultural heritage and current artists. But Keshavarz appears to read RLT as an attack - or, at least, a dismissal - of not just the Revolution, but of everything Iranian, and I'm wondering how clearly Keshavarz sees the distinction.

* If one discounts Keshavarz' critique as failing to engage RLT on its own terms (and again, I haven't read RLT and so can't tell for certain), Jasmine and Stars still has several points to offer: a picture of Keshavarz' childhood; an introduction to a modern poet (Forough Farrokhzad) and a modern novelist (Shahrnush Parsipar) that Keshavarz reveres; and a reminder of the importance of love as a force that transcends conflict and is very much at home in Persian culture. ( )
  bezoar44 | Aug 10, 2014 |
Reading Lolita in Tehran was a bestselling memoir about a professor of Western literature and her life in Iran before and after the revolution. But did it give us an accurate view of Iran? In Jasmine and Stars, Fatemeh Keshavarz argues that it did not. Within the pages, Keshavarz, also a literature professor, offers her positive experiences growing up in Iran, of contemporary, admirable Islamic men, and examples if the wealth of art being currently produced in Islam in an effort to break down the stereotypes and inaccuracies she feels were presented in Reading Lolita in Tehran. Keshavarz has some very solid, valid arguments, but some are weak. For example, she features a chapter on the Iranian novel Women without Men by Shahrnush Parsipur to show how alive and vibrant the novel is in Iran. However, that work was censored in Iran and the author was imprisoned for it twice and is now a political refugee in the United States. Like Reading Lolita in Tehran, some of the work reads like memoir while other parts are very academic, even more so than Reading Lolita in Tehran. This prevents the work from reaching the same readers Lolita in Tehran did. Still, multiple perspectives are only beneficial and give us a more complete picture of a place, people, or an event. ( )
  MissyAnn | May 15, 2010 |
This is an essential read for anyone who's ever heard anything about Iran (or even the Middle East). Keshavarz shows the beauty and humanity of a country behind the negative images flooded in the media and memoirs like "Reading Lolita in Tehran." She introduces the reader to an unknown world — the world of Iranian literature — and she deconstructs portrayals of Iran so that the reader is left with an analytical framework for viewing the world. The book is readable, fascinating, and engaging. It's sprinkled with poetry and stories from Iran. I'd recommend it to anyone. ( )
  csoki637 | May 20, 2008 |
Silly and fluffy at best, and dangerously optimistic about the state of Iran and Islam ar worst, this book is still worth a read for those who have already completed the work it purports to refute. The author conveniently ignores many of the more troubling aspects of Shiite Islam, blaming it all on culture and forgetting that much of what she claims isn't true Islam can be found in the Quran and Hadith. Her picture is much too rosy to be realistic, and I hope that no one reads her work alone and without a proper context and understanding. In her efforts to portray Iranians as normal human beings, she falls into factual inaccuracy. ( )
2 vote heina | Apr 1, 2008 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0807831093, Hardcover)

In a direct, frank, and intimate exploration of Iranian literature and society, scholar, teacher, and poet Fatemeh Keshavarz challenges popular perceptions of Iran as a society bereft of vitality and joy. Her fresh perspective on present day Iran provides a rare insight into this rich but virtually unknown culture alive with artistic expression.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:03:52 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

In a direct, frank, and intimate exploration of Iranian literature and society, scholar, teacher, and poet Fatemeh Keshavarz challenges popular perceptions of Iran as a society bereft of vitality and joy. Her fresh perspective on present-day Iran provides a rare insight into this rich culture alive with artistic expression but virtually unknown to most Americans. Keshavarz introduces readers to two modern Iranian women writers whose strong and articulate voices belie the stereotypical perception of Iranian women as voiceless victims in a country of villains. She follows with a lively critique of the recent best-seller Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books, which epitomizes what Keshavarz calls the "New Orientalist narrative," a view marred by stereotype and prejudice more often tied to current geopolitical conflicts than to an understanding of Iran. Blending in firsthand glimpses of her own life--from childhood memories in 1960s Shiraz to her present life as a professor in America--Keshavarz paints a portrait of Iran depicting both cultural depth and intellectual complexity. With a scholar's expertise and a poet's hand, she helps amplify the powerful voices of contemporary Iranians and leads readers toward a deeper understanding of the country's past and present.… (more)

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