Lena's Reviews > Reading Lolita in Tehran

Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi
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's review
Oct 28, 2007

really liked it
bookshelves: memoir

In the shadows of all the bluster coming out of Iran these days, I try to remember those stories I've heard about Iranians who do not share the religious fervor of their political leaders and long for a more open society than the one that they currently have. Azar Nafisi's memoir about her life as a literature professor in Tehran the years following the revolution gave me a moving and painful glimpse into the lives of those who chafe under a kind of repression that I can only imagine.

Nafisi was an idealistic young professor when she first returned to Iran to teach in the wake of the revolution. She recounts with clear insight how her own revolutionary leanings and political naiveté gave way to a growing sense of dread as she realized that the political changes wrought by the revolution were much more of the frying-pan-into-the-fire variety than anything else.

Like all good memoirs, Nafisi's account of her own struggles against the growing restrictions placed on her both as a woman and an academic gave me a powerful sense of what it must have been like for those women who saw their freedom snatched away in the name of a rigid ideology. There were many moments in this book that left me with a haunting, visceral sense of events I hope I never experience: the worry that can erupt when a friend's failure to show up for an appointment immediately conjures up images of secret police, torture, and permanent disappearance, or the sheer disbelief at a failed state plot to murder nearly two dozen troublesome writers.

Nafisi learned to cope with the grim reality around her by escaping into the world she loved best, that of the literature she taught on and off at various universities during her stay. During her last years, she ran a private class for female students in which they discussed the works of Nabokov, Fitzgerald, James and Austin. The lessons she and her students learn from these books are intricately woven through the personal stories of the girls themselves. One might think the veiled women of the Islamic Republic would have little in common with the heroines such as Daisy Miller or Elizabeth Bennet, yet Nafisi's eloquent tale makes clear that the power of literature to help us better understand ourselves transcends borders, cultures, and the repression of ideological systems that cannot comprehend the complex, gray shades of human nature literature is so good at revealing.
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Reading Progress

10/30/2008 page 135
02/07/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-6)

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Emily Now that I've read and loved Persepolis, perhaps I'm ready for this deeper treatment of the subject. Thanks for your review!

Lena I liked Persepolis as well. They're so different, but both are such inspiring examples of the art that can come out of despair.

message 4: by booklady (last edited Nov 12, 2008 08:44AM) (new)

booklady I, too, appreciated the gentle reminder this book offered that within countries -- even so-called 'enemy' or dangerous countries -- exist individual people, each with his/her own unique perspective. So often we forget that and yet we would hate to have our voices drowned out by the louder sound of our government's actions, whether they be perceived to be warlike or even peaceful. So it is good to remember and reflect on just one Iranian woman.

Lena Having the perspective on their lives was enormously valuable on a lot of levels, both in terms of greater understanding and also a reminder not to take for granted the freedoms I have always assumed I would have. But I also learned a lot from Nafisi's discussions of all the various political and religious factions fighting it out in the wake of the revolution - her insights into the passion and beliefs of people who truly thought they were fighting for the right thing is an incredible reminder of how astoundingly complex it all is. I'll be thinking about the ideas in this book for a long, long time.

Sara Marvelous review, Lena. Thank you.

Lena Thanks, Sara!

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