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Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi
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Reading Lolita in Tehran (2003)

by Azar Nafisi

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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English (216)  Italian (3)  Spanish (2)  French (1)  Hebrew (1)  All languages (223)
Showing 1-5 of 216 (next | show all)
The story of Iranian women's experiences under a totalitarian regime, told in a straightforward manner but supplemented by metaphors drawn from the Western literary canon. The author Azar Nafisi is well capable of this approach, given her Western education and background as a professor of English literature at Tehran University. Her story begins with an illicit reading group comprised of former students who met in her home in the mid-1990s, but soon moves back in time to cover her life in Iran from 1979 onward, relating the gradual tightening of controls over the country's population under Ayatollah Khomeini and his successors. The timeline becomes muddied in places, but for the most part it is chronological.

Through its clear prose and inviting method, this work has completely changed my image of Iran, its history and its people. I've long imagined Iran's people as hardline, but here the author describes 'Death to America' chants staged for western cameras by Iranian citizens forced or paid to participate. The Iranian Revolution was not an overnight success, resorting to force and murder in overcoming numerous protests and demonstrations by its unbelieving citizens, who even then did not foresee all that was coming: "To think that the universities could be closed down seemed as far-fetched as the possibility that women would finally succumb to wearing the veil."

I derived the most benefit from the portions offering critical study of various classic novels. Magic happens when Western literature is interpreted through the eyes of these Iranian women, providing great insight into their society through the parallels drawn. Humbert Humbert's oppression of Lolita is likened to the totalitarian regime they suffer under; moral stances in The Great Gatsby are equated with the revolutionaries; the women of Henry James' novels serve as models for quiet defiance, etc. I'd strongly recommend having read the titles most closely studied in advance (or else you won't need to): Lolita, Invitation to a Beheading, The Great Gatsby, Daisy Miller, Washington Square, and Pride & Prejudice. ( )
  Cecrow | Feb 2, 2016 |
Good concept, but somehow couldn't bring myself to finish it before I took it back to the library. I only had a couple chapters to read, but I found myself not interested in seeing how the book ended.

Maybe another time.. ( )
  elle-kay | Jan 27, 2016 |
A book about literature and how it effects different people in different ways. Some fascinating insights into Iranian culture and life in Tehran. Also introduces us to some women who live heroic lives behind the scenes. ( )
  dbsovereign | Jan 26, 2016 |
This memoir asks "why should anyone read fiction?" We had a great discussion, but we wanted to know more about the lives of the students. At times it read more like an academic paper, using Western authors to express THIS author's views on the Iranian Revolution. I felt she was lecturing, and found it boring.

I had just read "The Hemingway Book Club of Kosovo" for my other book club (discussion the night before this one), and I missed the personal connection with the students / book club members evident in that book. ( )
  BookConcierge | Jan 22, 2016 |
So this is a beautifully tragic memoir of a literature professors experience during the revolution in Iran that occurred in the 1980's. It can be terribly dry at times, but throughout the entire book are startling quotes. You'll journey through the early days of the Iranian revolution and implementation of Sharia Law and the constant threat of the morality police. You'll hear heart rending stories of injustice done to women. You'll be encouraged and outraged at the strength these women have to have to merely survive in this time. You'll join a jury as The Great Gatsby is put on trial by students of literature, both praising and condemning the work. It's awful and wonderful, but not for the faint of heart; it takes a while to get through it. ( )
  wkeblejr | Jan 19, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 216 (next | show all)
The charismatic passion in the book is not simply for literature itself but for the kind of inspirational teaching of it which helps students to teach themselves by applying their own intelligence and emotions to what they are reading.
added by mikeg2 | editThe Guardian, Paul Allen (Sep 13, 2003)
 
[A]n eloquent brief on the transformative powers of fiction--on the refuge from ideology that art can offer to those living under tyranny, and art's affirmative and subversive faith in the voice of the individual.
added by jburlinson | editNew York Times, Michiko Kakutani (Mar 15, 2003)
 
A spirited tribute both to the classics of world literature and to resistance against oppression.
added by jburlinson | editKirkus (Feb 15, 2003)
 

» Add other authors (13 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Azar Nafisiprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Flothuis, MeaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
To whom do we tell what happened on the Earth, for whom we place everywhere huge Mirrors in the hope that they will be filled up And will stay so? -Czeslaw Milosz, "Annalena"
Dedication
In memory of my mother, Nezhat Nafisi
for my father, Ahmad Nafisi,
and my family: Bijan, Negar and Dara Naderi.
First words
In the fall of 1995, after resigning from my last academic post, I decided to indulge myself and fulfill a dream.
Quotations
What we search for in literature is not much reality but the epiphany of truth.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 081297106X, Paperback)

An inspired blend of memoir and literary criticism, Reading Lolita in Tehran is 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 authors who provided the women with examples of those who successfully asserted their autonomy despite great odds. The great works encouraged them to strike out against authoritarianism and repression in their own ways, both large and small: "There, in that living room, we rediscovered that we were also living, breathing human beings; and no matter how repressive the state became, no matter how intimidated and frightened we were, like Lolita we tried to escape and to create our own little pockets of freedom," she writes. In short, the art helped them to survive. --Shawn Carkonen

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 17:57:41 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

Prof. Nafisi resigned from her job as professor of English Literature at a university in Tehran in 1995 due to repressive government policies. For the next 2 years, until she left Iran, she gathered 7 young women, former students, at her house every Thursday morning to read and discuss works of Western literature forbidden by the new regime. They used this forum to learn to speak freely, not only about literature, but also about the social, political, and cultural realities of living under strict Islamic rule.… (more)

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