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Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi
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Reading Lolita in Tehran (original 2003; edition 2004)

by Azar Nafisi (Autore), Azar Nafisi (Collaboratore)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
11,552254395 (3.61)437
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)
Member:Zuzika
Title:Reading Lolita in Tehran
Authors:Azar Nafisi (Autore)
Other authors:Azar Nafisi (Collaboratore)
Info:Random USA (2004), Edition: Reprint, 356 pages
Collections:Your library, Favorites
Rating:*****
Tags:favorites

Work details

Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books by Azar Nafisi (2003)

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    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.
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    A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini (readerbabe1984)
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    The Annotated Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov (bertilak)
  5. 31
    Things I've Been Silent About: Memories by Azar Nafisi (AuraNefertari)
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    Jews Without Money by Michael Gold (Anonymous user)
    Anonymous user: The work that inspired Azar Nafisi's political thinking in relation to literature.
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    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.
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    Not Without My Daughter by Betty Mahmoody (Cecrow)
    Cecrow: Another woman's experience in Iran, albeit more sensational.
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    The Republic of Imagination: America in Three Books by Azar Nafisi (kerryperry42)
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» See also 437 mentions

English (246)  Italian (4)  Spanish (3)  Hebrew (1)  All languages (254)
Showing 1-5 of 246 (next | show all)
There was a faded receipt left in the copy of the book I read, a few pages from the beginning. I couldn't read it all, but read this much: it was purchased new from a shop in San Francisco on August 16, 2004. The buyer paid $12.08 for it. Somehow the book found its way from SF to Jackson, New Jersey and eventually to me. It may be that I am the first to have actually read it.

I read about this book in various places when it first came out. It got good reviews yet I wasn't at all sure that I wanted to read it, although right now I am not sure why not. But when I had the chance to check it out I took it. Obviously it was not high on my list or I would have read it before now.

The author is a professor of English literature, originally from Iran. She left with her family for the U.S. when she was 13 and returned thirteen years later. She arrived at a tumultuous time in Iran, during the time that Iran was changed to the Islamic Republic of Iran, and led by the Ayatollah Khomeini, hard-line religious fundamentalist. While Nafisi was teaching at the University of Tehran, the laws gradually tightened around the populace, especially the women. While men were permitted to have more than one wife, including several "temporary" wives, women were required to be covered whenever in public, be accompanied by a male relative in many places, and whenever a couple had a child and then split up, the child automatically was given to the male.Women could not wear makeup or allow their hair to be seen.

And that was the least of it. There were arrests, imprisonment, and executions every day. A woman could be arrested for being too attractive, and what awaited her in prison can be imagined.

One way that Nafisi found to deal with the restrictions was through English literature, possibly her greatest love. She taught classes on the great English writers, including Nabokov, Bellow, Austen, and others. She tried to reach her students through fiction, conveying how a fictional story can make you think and even break down prejudices and preconceptions. Her students were not used to frank discussion and offering their own opinions.Some of them were "revolutionaries", dedicated to the current regime and distrustful of the characters in fiction, especially where morals were concerned. Nafisi refused to bow to the preferences of this type student by blacking out words like "sex", that might offend them. She insisted that fiction must be taken for what it is, and for where it comes from, and cannot be modified to suit one's religious beliefs.

It became increasingly more difficult to teach during these times, with interruptions, bombings, students leaving for demonstrations or to join the army, and eventually Nafisi left the university. Some years later, in 1995, she quietly formed a small class that met in her home, comprised of only women who were specifically invited to attend. These were young women who had showed a real interest (even passion) in literature and a mind capable of getting something from it. These weekly meetings became more than a class; they also revealed much about the students as well as about Nafisi herself.

It was here that they discussed Nabokov's Lolita, among other masterworks. And related them to present-day Iran and the lives of women there.

Nafisi is compelled to teach. She used this book as a means to reach us as well, to demonstrate what it means to discuss a work of literature. Thus we find out how she read Lolita, and Austen, and others. Her view of Lolita is that it is the story of a dreadful pedophile who uses and destroys a 12-year-old girl. She feels for the girl, and not at all for Humbert Humbert. Her views are so damning that I was disturbed by them. I read Lolita several years ago and thought it was amazing. I had not expected to like the story of a middle-aged man with a 12-year-old girl. I was amazed that I developed sympathy for Humbert, even while I could not condone what he was doing. I also felt that Lolita was not a simple victim, but a strong character in her own right. That, of course, does not make it right that Humbert should have taken advantage of her. Still, to me, it makes the story remarkable in a different way from how Nafisi saw it. After reading her treatise on the subject I thought maybe I should read it again, but I didn't look forward to it (I rarely reread even my favorite books). My decision was to order a copy of the audio book. I will be able to listen to it while out and about and think while driving.

An interesting and rather odd part of this tale is the part of "the magician". Nafisi refers to this man this way, not because he performs typical tricks, but because he has a gift for helping others with their lives. Not a therapist but an insightful man who gives of himself while never wanting anything in return. Somehow Nafisi learns of him and during a bleak time in her life she calls him up and asks to see him. Thus forms a bond, at least on her side. The magician always is polite and kind. Offers a rare treat - chocolates - and tea, and listens. Makes comments. Helps her to see herself differently, and ultimately helps her develop "a plan". This is the type person I suspect most of us would dearly love to have in our lives: someone who just listens to us, knows us, understands us. There is nothing we want more than to be understood. Did he really exist? Nafisi poses the question later, but of course we aren't meant to take it seriously.

The story gives us an inside view of Iran during those difficult years (not that today life is a picnic there, but it is improving in some ways), into the effect of forced religious law (often having the effect of driving people away from their beliefs rather than the contrary), into the intimate lives of young muslim women, not allowed to express love except for their country's leader.

The story also gives us insight into serious reading, really dissecting and thinking about great literature. I expect it would be a pleasure to be in classes like these, for those of us who value well-written words.

It's a valuable book for these reasons. But I didn't love it. I couldn't get close to Nafisi. I felt she was pouring it on at times, telling rather than showing, and even making excuses for her lack of action during the revolutionary times. More than once, though, she points out that "we are responsible" for putting these people in office. But I wonder. How much power does one really have in a situation where dissent can lead to death?

For whatever reason I did not warm to her. I also was confused by her way of jumping back and forth in time. Near the end she refers to the several years the group met at her house, yet it was only two years. I had to track down the dates to put it together. In spite of my misgivings I still came away with a new way of seeing, and that is what makes a good book. ( )
  slojudy | Sep 8, 2020 |
The justification for fiction. After the section with the class debate, I slammed down the book and cried, "That's right!" I wish I had read the classics mentioned within. Time to start! Gatsby is first. ( )
  bsmashers | Aug 1, 2020 |
I am now inspired to read Austen and James , and to reread Gatsby and Lolita. ( )
  NAgis | May 6, 2020 |
I liked this more than I thought I would. There are major spoilers for some popular classics though! Most notably the Great Gatsby. I haven't read the book but I saw a play for it the Saturday before I started this and if I hadn't seen it then I would have been majorly spoiled and upset! Otherwise it was a very interesting insite to women in Iran. ( )
  KayIS813 | Mar 27, 2020 |
Includes Reading Group guide. ( )
  ME_Dictionary | Mar 20, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 246 (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
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 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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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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