"These students, like the rest of their generation, were different from mine in one fundamental aspect. My generation complained of a loss, the void i"These students, like the rest of their generation, were different from mine in one fundamental aspect. My generation complained of a loss, the void in our lives that was created when our past was stolen from us, making us exiles in our own country. Yet we had a past to compare with the present; we had memories and images of what had been taken away. But my girls spoke constantly of stolen kisses, films they had never seen and the wind they had never felt on their skin. This generation had no past. Their memory was of a half-articulated desire, something they had never had. It was this lack, their sense of longing for the ordinary, taken-for-granted aspects of life, that gave their words a certain luminous quality kin to poetry." PG 76
"As I try now to piece together the disjointed and incoherent events of that period, I notice how my growing sense that I was descending into an abyss or void was accompanied by two momentous events that happened simultaneously: the war and the loss of my teaching job. I had not realized how far the routines of one's life create the illusion of stability. Now that I could not call myself a teacher, a writer, now that I could not wear what I would normally wear, walk in the streets to the beat of my own body, shout if I wanted to or pat a male colleague on the back on the spur of the moment, now that all this was illegal, I felt light and fictional, as if I were walking on air, as if I had been written into being and then erased in one quick swipe." PG 167
"'I have a recurring fantasy that one more article has been added to the Bill of Rights: the right to free access to imagination. I have come to believe that genuine democracy cannot exist without the freedom to imagine and the right to use imaginative works without any restrictions. To have a whole life, one must have the possibility of publicly shaping and expressing private worlds, dreams, thoughts and desires, of constantly having access to a dialogue between the public and private worlds. How else do we know that we have existed, felt desired, hated, feared?'"
"'We speak of facts, yet facts exist only partially to us if they are not repeated and re-created through emotions, thoughts and feelings. To me it seemed as if we had not really existed, or only half existed, because we could not imaginitively realize ourselves and communicate to the world, because we had used works of imagination to serve as handmaidens to some political ploy.'" PG 338-39
I don't know how many of you have read the book Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi. When I picked it up I wasn't sure what I was going to find. What I found was a breathtaking display of courage in the face of oppression. Azar took it upon herself after she lost her teaching post in Tehran for refusing to wear the veil to teach a group of girls some of the "forbidden Western novels." They read with such passion and feeling; they felt for the Westernized characters that they longed to be like. They read Nobokov, Austen, James, and Fitzgerald. They often read from copied material because the books were banned, outlawed, and simply unavailable for general public consumption. Azar talks of going from bookstore to bookstore trying to locate copies of books. When she found a rare treasure she bought it regardless of the consequence of what she might not be able to have later; most were just unavailable. My heart cried.
I simply cannot imagine living in a place where imagination and self-expression are stifled. I realized as I read how many things we take for granted in America. In the first quote they talk of stolen kisses and not being able to feel the wind on their skin. We live in a society in which it is acceptable to reveal more than a forehead or a wisp of hair behind a chador. I can walk outside in shorts if I want to; some of these girls had never felt the wind on anything more than their faces or hands. They do not know what it is like to go to a beach and wear a swimsuit and feel the wind coming off of the water caressing every part of exposed skin and tousling their hair. Sometimes I walk in The Grove and I have to stop under the trees and let the wind blow through my hair. It is one of the most peaceful feelings in the world. I can't imagine someone telling me that I'm not allowed to do that anymore. It is unfathomable. This occurs in the 1990s. It sounds like something from Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 but it was/is happening in modern society.
Azar talks of the "morality police" patrolling the streets in their white Toyotas and carrying major firearms looking for women behaving in an inappropriate manner. The penalty for infractions was prison and/or death depending on what the woman had done. Could you imagine walking down the street, as a woman, with a person of the opposite sex and being arrested because your chador (veil) had slipped and you were showing an ear lobe?! No, you couldn't and neither could I.
This book is hailed as "a remarkable exploration of resilience in the face of tyranny and a celebration of the liberating power of literature." It is; and, I recommend it to anyone who needs/wants to be reminded of how good we have it. Maybe you won't take for granted the ability to go online or into a bookstore and purchase any book you want. Of course, oppression and censorship do not stop at books; but, it's a good example. I know I won't take for granted the ability I have to read anything I want. And, thanks to this book, I've become PASSIONATE about reading again.
It has occurred to me, as well, that this forum would also be a forbidden outlet... Thank God I live in America.
"This is how you read a novel: you inhale the experience." ~ Azar Nafisi...more