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Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books (2003)

by Azar Nafisi

Other authors: Marie-Hélène Dumas (Translator), Hilde Plau (Translator)

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
13,043279473 (3.62)492
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 literature. They were all former students whom she had taught at university. They were 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. 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 or protests and demonstrations. Azar Nafisi's 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.… (more)
  1. 91
    Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi (Eustrabirbeonne, kgodey)
  2. 80
    The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood (hsanch)
    hsanch: A parallel kind of story. Fundamentalist's come in many flavors and women often get the short end. A chilling a well-paced tale.
  3. 40
    A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini (readerbabe1984)
  4. 30
    The Annotated Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov (bertilak)
  5. 31
    Things I've Been Silent About: Memories by Azar Nafisi (AuraNefertari)
  6. 10
    Censoring an Iranian Love Story by Shahriar Mandanipour (the_awesome_opossum)
  7. 21
    The Bookseller of Kabul by Åsne Seierstad (unlucky)
  8. 10
    Prisoner of Tehran: A Memoir by Marina Nemat (Cecrow)
    Cecrow: Non-fiction: teenager sentenced to death for 'political crimes' in 1982, but who lived to tell her story.
  9. 10
    Jews Without Money by Michael Gold (Anonymous user)
    Anonymous user: The work that inspired Azar Nafisi's political thinking in relation to literature.
  10. 00
    The Republic of Imagination: America in Three Books by Azar Nafisi (kerryperry42)
  11. 00
    Not Without My Daughter by Betty Mahmoody (Cecrow)
    Cecrow: Another woman's experience in Iran, albeit more sensational.
  12. 12
    Bel Canto by Ann Patchett (readerbabe1984)
  13. 01
    Dentelles et tchador : La vie dans l'Iran des mollahs by Armin Arefi (Eustrabirbeonne)
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» See also 492 mentions

English (267)  Italian (5)  Spanish (4)  Dutch (1)  Hebrew (1)  All languages (278)
Showing 1-5 of 267 (next | show all)
A memoir of life in Tehran under the Islamic Republic during the 1980s and 1990s from the point of view of a secular, liberal member of the intelligentsia.

Nafisi is a professor of English literature, and the best parts of the book are the scenes of Iranian students in the early days of the revolution, and later in Nafisi's private study group in the late 1990s, reacting to the novels she loves and teaches. The classroom "trial" of The Great Gatsby, in which an ardent Islamic revolutionary student condems the book as a part of the decadent and immoral West, while another student argues in defense of its moral value, was a high point. Nafisi's drawing of a parallel between Humbert's "pinning" of Lolita and forcing her to be the person of his own imagination and what Nafisi sees as a similar act by Khomeini and the Islamic Republic in forcing Iranians to conform to their fantasies of how people should behave also struck me as interesting.

But there was less of that than I would have thought, and more of Nafisi's own condemnations and rants against the Islamic regime and its supporters and how it all made her feel. And most of the book's scenes with her small private study group of women equally alienated from the regime is spent complaining about their lives and the government, rather than discussing literature. Though to be sure, they have plenty to complain about, no argument there.

The book is interesting and worth reading, but I do wish Nafisi could have toned down her obviously strong impulse to write about "how the Islamic Republic made me continually feel depressed" and concentrated somewhat more on the actual works of English literature and how her students responded to them in their particular, much different, society.

( )
  lelandleslie | Feb 24, 2024 |
Difficult subject to read about. Reading it in 2024 makes it feel a bit dated since it is gotten so much worse for women. ( )
  kakadoo202 | Feb 18, 2024 |
I was so interested in the subject, I wanted to know about the student's lives in Tehran and the experience of freedom this class gave them. I only got through 10%.

While what I listed above that is definitely a part of the book, the majority of it seems to be about the author, her experience, and how it affected her. In the first 10% I read, there is an almost exhausting amount of 'I's and 'me's. As some other reviews have said, it does come off as self-important. ( )
  eurydactyl | Jul 20, 2023 |
interdisciplinary
great for students of AP literature ( )
  pollycallahan | Jul 1, 2023 |
The subject matter is compelling, but I found the framing awkward and the literary connections forced. At times it feels a bit like an Iranian Dead Poets Society, and Nafisi makes sure we are aware of the Western cultural capital that allows her to intellectually transcend the strictures of the Islamic state. Like Satrapi's Persepolis, this seems intended for a Western audience and is written from a place of privilege. The young women in her reading group are not really developed as people - we are given details about their lives, but in the end they feel interchangeable, and that they were used to illustrate the conflicts women face in a theocracy. ( )
  jonbrammer | Jul 1, 2023 |
Showing 1-5 of 267 (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 (9 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Nafisi, Azarprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Dumas, Marie-HélèneTranslatorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Plau, HildeTranslatorsecondary 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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Epigraph
To whom do we tell what happened on the
Earth, for whom do 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.
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Wikipedia in English (2)

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 literature. They were all former students whom she had taught at university. They were 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. 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 or protests and demonstrations. Azar Nafisi's 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.

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