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Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi

Reading Lolita in Tehran (2003)

by Azar Nafisi

Other authors: Marie-Hélène Dumas (Translator)

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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Louis started this but sadly lost the bugger and hasn't finished it yet
  justlibrarythings_xx | Aug 3, 2017 |
Best for: People interested in one story of life under authoritarian governments.

In a nutshell: A professor uses literature as the framework for her memoir of life teaching in Iran.

Line that sticks with me: “Lack of empathy was to my mind the central sin of the regime, from which all the others flowed.”

Why I chose it: I flew the weekend after the election, and saw this in the airport. I figured perhaps it would be good to study up on life under leadership that doesn’t view everyone equally.

Review: I’d heard about this book many times before, and thought it was all about a group of young girls who got together to read literature that they couldn’t access in other venues. That’s not entirely accurate. Instead it is the memoir of a professor that includes, in some parts, a group of women in their 20s getting together with the professor to discuss literature.

The book is organized into four parts, each using an author as the background to the events. It does not go chronologically; it jumps around a bit, which I found somewhat challenging, although I think it ultimately works well.

The book spends a lot of time exploring what it means to both receive an education and try to educate others with the implementing many strict rules. Dr. Nafisi spends a fair bit of time, for example, looking at what it would mean to follow the requirement to wear the veil, as she would not choose to wear one if it were not mandated. Is that a fight that it is worth undertaking if it means she would not be able to share her lectures with her students?

I think one of the more shocking things for me was how almost casually the author discusses how many people – including some of her own students – are thrown in jail for years for seemingly minor issues. And then they are released and it’s … it’s a big deal but also not surprising. It’s terrifying, and I have to say that given the utterly despicable things the 45th president has done in just the last eight days, I don’t think it’s too ridiculous to think it could happen here, too.

Before reading this book, I knew very little about Iran in the 80s and 90s. And obviously reading one book does not mean I know much more than I did before. But through the lovely writing of Dr. Nafisi, I feel like I understand some of the different perspectives of those living under the regime. ( )
  ASKelmore | Jul 8, 2017 |
A splendid book, though never as good again as the first chapter. Interesting as lit crit as well as social comment re Iran. ( )
  KayCliff | Jun 21, 2017 |
Touching. The memoir is told in the most interesting of ways, for one who enjoys English literature. A lovely blend of the classic fiction taught in a classroom and the everyday lives - trials and fears and horrors and realities - of life as a woman in Iran. Excellent. ( )
  J9Plourde | Jun 13, 2017 |
Avoidable. Boring, this was just a torture to get through. Cold and lacking insight, it was not really a portrayal of Iran as it was a lecture on books. ( )
  Soulmuser | May 30, 2017 |
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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 (10 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Azar Nafisiprimary authorall editionscalculated
Dumas, Marie-HélèneTranslatorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Flothuis, MeaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
García de la Hoz, María LuzTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lambert, J. K.Designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Saltzman, AllisonCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Serrai, RobertoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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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"
In memory of my mother, Nezhat Nafisi
for my father, Ahmad Nafisi,
and my family: Bijan, Negar and Dara Naderi.
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In the fall of 1995, after resigning from my last academic post, I decided to indulge myself and fulfill a dream.
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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