MHS AP Lit. 2012-2013 discussion

Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books
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Reading Lolita in Tehran > Reading Lolita in Tehran, Part 1: Lolita

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Ryan Gallagher (ryangallagher) | 24 comments Mod
Reading Lolita in Tehran, Part 1: Lolita


message 2: by Jackie (new)

Jackie Galvez | 8 comments This section deeply disturbed me just because the narrator is seriously comparing the political situation to the multiple rape and torture of a twelve year old girl at the hands of a mentally disturbed man who also is her stepfather. That act in itself is very cruel and demeaning and although I understand the injustice she is feeling, I feel that the situation in Tehran is a bit better than that.
After slowly getting over the rather disturbing intro into this book, I began to see the many different parallels that the narrator went through. A moment that stood out to me is when Nassrin’s mother and father’s marriage is being described. Not only was her mother a complete and total opposite of what a good Muslim women should be, she falls in love and marries the pinnacle of a proper Muslim man. Somehow they manage to make it work and her mother decides that wearing the chador is something very romantic and special. But what is surprising to me is that she teaches her girls very modern Western things such as English instead of Arabic and that her husband lets her do so. She makes such a huge change for her husband and to me is a symbol of what should’ve happened if the revolutionists had just let the country be. Wearing any type of clothing because of a religious viewpoint should be like Nassrin’s mother. She wasn’t forced to wear it, no one tried to push their ideals on her. She herself decided to cover herself out of love towards her husband. There’s a true relationship based on respect here that makes it so symbolic. There weren’t any laws dictating her clothing, her way of acting in public, or what she could do as a profession. This is why this is one of the things that really stood out to me because it was an actual positive relationship with such a controversial issue. Especially since the narrator herself was forced to resign due to the fact that she did not want to wear the veil.
And then there is the fact that such a “proper” devout Muslim man is so modern in his approach to his children. It’s a description that isn’t really seen all that often throughout the book so far. I think that even though his wife decides to follow more of a religious lifestyle she still kept her teachings on hand while raising Nassrin. It was almost described as a very Romeo and Juliet-esque type marriage.
The members that the narrator chooses to be in her book group are the same way as Nassrin’s parents. One was very religious before the revolutions and such and saw her chador as a strong symbol of her faith whiles others weren’t religious at all. While their political and religious views may not match somehow their common love of English literature makes them able to get along and grow as individuals regardless of their personal lives outside that class.


message 3: by Rumana (new)

Rumana Papia | 8 comments Comparing life for Muslims after the Revolution in Tehran to the situation between a young child and her elderly molester isn’t the first thought that comes to mind but gradually after reading Azar Nafisi’s explanations, I understand where she makes the connections. Nafisi isn’t necessarily claiming that the physical state of the two situations are alike but more so the idea that Humbert and the leaders of the Republic of Tehran hold the position of the “brutal totalitarian rulers” whose main motives are to “possess and control imaginative minds.” And while Humbert dismisses his atrocious deeds by “implicating his victim” Lolita, the leaders of the Republic exonerate their actions by appealing to the audiences “higher sense of morality.” Humbert, for example, articulates a scheme based around accusing Lolita of being the seducer who trapped this intelligent man who was simply performing his duties as a stepfather. Like Humbert, when burning down the movie theatres, Ayatollah Khomeini claims that he is against prostitution. He believes that this reason excuses him from the action of burning down the establishments of the country and in turn gives the people the impression that he is a great leader for trying to step a act as filthy as prostitution. Although some of the audience might feel that this justifies Humbert and Khomeini’s actions, others feel that these are examples that reveal how cunning these men are.
Humbert's biggest desire is to fully possess Lolita but she never willingly accepts him into her life. The leaders of the Republic of Tehran’s desire to fully gain control of all aspects of their people’s lives. Since both fail in their tasks, Humbert retaliates by becoming crueler and crueler to his victim while the leaders of the Republic of Tehran retaliate by forcing the public to become “complicit in their own crimes,” and the public execute these by dressing the way and acting the way they are told to every day of their lives.
Although the victims despise their captors, they have no other choice. After fulfilling Humberts desires for the night, all Lolita asks for is to call her mother which she finds out is dead. Even after the pain he causes her, she still comes to him for comfort for the sole reason of her not having “absolutely nowhere else to go,” she was truly helpless. While Lolita is burdened with a “pathetic dependence” on the man who turned her into a living doll used solely to satisfy his sexual desires, the people of Tehran are forced to live almost each and every part of their lives according to Ayatollah Khomeini and his followers because they are burdened with the lack of an escape or choice.
Humbert tries to mold Lolita into his own creation, “having no will, no consciousness,” just as how the Republic of Tehran attempts to do the same with their people. In this way, her existence is forever linked in the audience’s minds with that of her master. She can only “come to life” through Humberts descriptions of her. Similar to this situation, the women in Nafisi’s class represent the women of Tehran and how they lack the ability to identify themselves due to the strict religious based laws imposed on them by their family and the country they live in.
Both Lolita and the women of Tehran face the burden of only being able to “shape themselves through other people’s eyes,” specifically through the eyes of the people that are responsible for their lack of self identification. Lolita’s youth and dependence on Humbert keeps her from escaping while Ayatollahs followers keep Tehran's public from performing self expression and freeing themselves.


message 4: by Natalie (last edited Aug 27, 2012 12:39PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Natalie Fallano | 8 comments Jackie wrote: "This section deeply disturbed me just because the narrator is seriously comparing the political situation to the multiple rape and torture of a twelve year old girl at the hands of a mentally distu..."
At first I made the same connection as you about Nafisi’s Iranian women vs. Lolita comparison but then my interpretation changed, so I would like to expand on your theory. I think that she justifies her reasoning and makes it clear that she does not want the actual comparison to be taken literal: "I want to emphasize once more that we were not Lolita, the Ayatollah was not Humbert and this republic was not what Humbert called his princedom by the sea." (35). The purpose of the comparison and the name if the book come from the theme of the victim/jailor relationship. The novel is written from Humbert's point of view therefore, Lolita is seen through what he perceives of her and what he decides to reveal to the audience. The audience knows that she is a victim of rape, and that Humbert is her jailor. But she is jailed because Humbert "wants her, a living breathing human being, to become stationary, to give up her life for the still life he offers in return" (37). Nafisi believes that jail is a state of mind. She explores this through Lolita's situation as well as Cincinnatus in Invitation to Beheading. One is only in jail if he "accept the world the jailors impose upon him" (76). This is what happens to Lolita: she loses herself and becomes the person Humbert shapes her to be.
I think Nabokov's story becomes, as they call it, "Our Lolita" (6) to these Iranian women because it symbolizes their personal "jail" struggle. The government has taken away many rights and has forced laws upon them, one being mandatory veiling. Iran's government "invaded all private spaces and tried to shape every gesture" (77). Nafisi expresses how she differentiates from her students because their "generation had no past" (76). They can not miss what they never experienced, saw and felt. Instead they must dream. She reads what they write and notices that "they have no clear images of themselves" (38). This is their struggle and the only way to conquer it is to "find a way to preserve one's individuality" (77). So in a sense, they may seem to be physically jailed, but as long as they continue to find themselves and dream, they will not be "in jail." The reader knows that they have not lost this battle because they continue to defy the jailor. They read banned books, and own satellite dishes, and search for love.
This theme and the longing for freedom will most likely remain central and prominent in the novel because it describes a state of revolution. Nafisi uses several symbols to represent imprisonment as well as liberation. One symbol of freedom is the act of unveiling when Nafisi's students enter her house: "When my students came into that room, they took off more than their scarves and robes" (6). During this time they came out of their shells and showed their true colors through opinions and stories. Another symbol would be the green gate, "a magical entrance into a forbidden world" (29). This gate was the entrance to the university, but women were not allowed to use. They were denied access and were instead subject to another opening where they would be searched. The gate reminds them that allow they are entering the same place to study as the men, they must not forget the limitations.


message 5: by Ashly (new)

Ashly | 8 comments It is rather difficult for me to sit down and read a novel let alone one that is so far out of my comfort zone. Reading Lolita in Tehran is more complicated to comprehend than I had ever expected, it is much more distressing to read but is a challenge that I have willingly accepted. Nafisi’s accounts flash back to the early days of the revolution, and offers a rare glance from the inside, of women’s lives in revolutionary Iran.
For two years Nafisi gathered seven young women in her home every Thursday morning to read and discuss forbidden works of Western literature. Nafisi and her students interpret these western works in a way that I have yet to fully understand but, I suppose makes them their own. In The first section Nafisi and her students focus on the novel Lolita, a novel in which a well educated European with a history of mental instability develops a fondness for the 12 year old daughter of his landlady. With Lolita being a much more controversial novel than I had anticipated, I was surprise as to where the unexpected parallels which Nafisi and her students drew between those books and their own experiences came about. As women living under the unforgiving rule of the mullahs, I wasn’t sure why the rape and torture of a 12-yearold girl could relate to the political instability these women faced in Iran but, as I continued to read I realized where Nafisi drew her connections. Nafisi’s main assertion is that “the desperate truth of Lolita’s story is not the rape of a twelve year old by a foul old man, but the confiscation of one individual’s life by another.” Nafisi also to points out that they (referring to her and her students) do not view themselves as Lolita or Lolita as a critique of the Islamic Republic, but they focused on it because “it went against the grain of all totalitarian perspectives.”
It is very clear that Nafisi did not want the comparison between the two topics to be taken literally, "I want to emphasize once more that we were not Lolita, the Ayatollah was not Humbert and this republic was not what Humbert called his princedom by the sea." She focuses more on the idea of Iranian women as prisoners of their own society. The Islamists dominated the surrounding areas and imposed their interpretation of Islamic tenets onto society and because of these ideas; Iranian women were forced to adhere to a strict code of dress, decreasing the status and value of women. But, Through Nafisi they are challenging many of the government’s ideologies the moment they step onto her doorstep. These women are crossing the threshold and are safely hidden away in Nafisi’s apartment. They slowly remove their veils, scarves and robes, revealing layers of clothing or on a deeper level, layers of themselves.


message 6: by Janice (new)

Janice Yiu | 6 comments It is hard to believe that this novel is nonfiction. The events that take place are very shocking to me, especially since the Iran Revolution is not a topic that I am familiar with. Something I found beautiful was the description of Nafisi's students as they remove their scarves and robes. The clothing they wore beneath reflected their personalities as well as the way they styled their hair. Mashid, for example, had her hair "meticulously styled and curled under." (12) Mashid was ignored by her classmates when she attended a fashionable girls' college because of her robe and scarf. However, under the cloak, the look Mashid has strikes Nafisi as "more European than Iranian" (12) which is rather ironic.
According to Nafisi, Sanaz's transformation was the most radical. Without her robe and scarf, her features looked "softer and more radiant: (16) while the scarf made her look "emaciated and almost hard." (16) Without the cloaks, layers of colorful clothing and jewelry are revealed. However when the girls put their robes back on, all that color and personality is hidden away.

In that one room, Nafisi and her students are able to escape the world and reality. Nafisi is reminded of her painter friend who went from painting modern realism to abstraction. Why did she move from realism to abstraction? “‘Reality has become so intolerable,’ she said, ‘so bleak, that all I can paint now are the colors of my dream.”’ (11) For Nafisi, the class was the color of her dreams because it was her chance to “paint the colors” (11) of her dreams, a chance that not many people are given.

As for the reading of Lolita, I found the story disturbing. However, Nafisi strongly states that “the desperate truth of Lolita’s story is not the rape of a twelve year old by a dirty old man, but the confiscation of one individual’s life by another.” (35) Nafisi emphasizes that the girls are not Lolita, yet somehow they can state connect and relate to the novel. This is because the Islamic Republic created their own history does not allow the people to be who they are, similar to how Humbert convinces Lolita she has no life of her own and denies her of any chance to live. Mashid says that it is difficult for her to read about Lolita’s feelings because “‘all she wants is to be a normal girl”’ (49) which shows how she is able to relate to Lolita. Manna describes that Ayatollah Khomeini attempted to turn the people into figments of his imagination like how Humbert describes Lolita as an undesirable piece of object robbed of innocence and childhood. Even though the girls cannot relate to the events in Lolita, they can certainly understand the emotions of feeling suppressed and the desire to become an individual rather than an item.


Mary | 8 comments I immediately took a liking to the complexity of this book. I enjoy how we have to analyze an interpretation of other books. There's so many layers to it.

First off, I agree with the point most of you are making - that Lolita and the political climate of Tehran are not to be directly compared, but find the fact that the essential idea of totalitarianism is engrained in the story. Humbert did not simply rape Lolita, he objectified her. I have seen bits of the movie and read the plot, and my own opinion is that he truly (and disgustingly) loved Lolita. He was devoted to her in such an unhealthy way (like the political Muslim radicals were devoted to their religion) that he not only denied her hatred for him, but denied what she truly was - a sad, young and corrupted girl. He projected his fantasies and ideologies on her. Her name wasn't even Lolita - it was Dolores. He created an entire entity based on a face, a body and a willing personality. Much like a dictator shapes a country based on their own personal ideals and the willingness of a party to get wherever they need to. While the people of Tehran may have asked for change, they did not ask for it to be forced upon them, or to be taken advantage of to the point that they had to fit a certain image with absolutely no room for opposition or individualism.

Lolita also parallels the act of wearing the chador. When Nafisi describes her girls at the beginning of the book, she is making it so the reader understands that despite their veils, these girls are all very different people - from the flirtatious Azin to the devout Muslim Manna. However, their oppressive government takes all that is unique to them by forcing them to wear the chador, much like Humbert strips Dolores of all her personality by branding her Lolita, completely altering her identity to a simple ideal, much like these Muslim women simply become ideal religious (and ultimately political) symbols with no real voice.

Nafisi not only uses Lolita as a parallel to the lifestyles of women in Tehran, she also uses it as the perfect introduction. Lolita is essentially about a man who is so infatuated with a young girl that he is writing about how weak he was for her (he ended up killing a man who also took advantage of her, ultimately leading to his own death in jail) and going on about their love making. To us, while the relationship itself is disturbing, the distribution of this literature seems ordinary compared to some of the more heated erotic literature we see being sold. However, in Tehran this theme of such intense love is looked down upon, with the book being banned. Using such a controversial book to open with shows the intolerance Tehran's government has for books (or even ideas) of this nature, which sets the stage for Nafisi to elaborate on the censorship the government imposes on it's people (no hair being shown, no satellite dishes, etc.) and it's lust for control and uniformity throughout.


message 8: by Prince (new)

Prince Mukala | 4 comments This past year as a result of my research project I begin to study and watch the events involving the U.S. and Iran, and this book perfectly compliments my understanding of the region--in particular the Muslim women of Iran. I think it's important to note Azar Nafisi's usage of the symbols in the descriptions of her personal life outside the world of novels, where most of the memoir and connections occur. For example, Nafisi underscores the "color" surrounding the attire of most of the secretive Iranian students, and herself. In essence by juxtaposing her own personal life--a life filled with rebellion and opposition to arbitrary authority--Nafisi speaks deeply about her own enlightened thoughts and experiences, which she conveys to her readers and her adoring students.
In the case of "colors"(14) she recounts the story of Scheherazade a woman that she admired greatly as a youth due to her craftiness and her ability to continue living by creating stories every night for the king holding her captive. As a woman, she wanted to know about "Scheherazade's dress, her bed cover, the color of the genie and the magic lamp"(14). She felt that one woman could gain a great deal of insight into another woman by gazing into her clothes and the color of her personal belongings because within those clothes lay a key and a small glimpse into the woman's personality. By looking at the composition in particular the color of a woman's belongings a woman could see a great deal about a woman's personality, interests, hopes, dreams and fears all in one single glance. The saying "The clothes make the man," or in this case "the woman" comes to mind, and applies to this exact situation.
However, when examining the lives of the women in Iran, Nafisi reveals that women cannot wear outrageous colors such as "shocking pink or "tomato red"(14) because women in Iran by law, cannot draw excessive attention to themselves. By doing so would defy the rules regarding modesty and the subservience of women to men. By underscoring the lack of color exposure in Iran, I feel as if I am a citizen living in Iran looking at the women walking the streets, heads down and meek, working their damnedest to avoid attention. Iran's reputation internationally remains that of a closed-gate country but by underscoring the restrictions to women regarding fashion, I have gained a tremendous amount of insight into the closed door nation.


message 9: by Amanda (new)

Amanda Ramsey | 6 comments Ashly wrote: "It is rather difficult for me to sit down and read a novel let alone one that is so far out of my comfort zone. Reading Lolita in Tehran is more complicated to comprehend than I had ever expected, ..."

I definitely agree with you Ashly. At first, I was so hesitant to pick up the novel. After seeing that part one was titled "Lolita", I became intimidated-- I've never read the classic Lolita and I feared that I would have a lot of trouble comprehending the true meaning of the section. It's a very complex novel because it relates to various classic texts that most of us aren't completely familiar with. Though a little taken back by the complexity of the novel, I feel as though the author, Azar Nafisi was considerate in the sense that she did not assume every reader was knew the story of Lolita like the back of their hand. Through reading this section, I became informed, both directly and indirectly, about what the story of Lolita is. Which, I will admit I'm quite eager to read in my spare time.
Aside from that though, I became captivated in the story about the girls. Through Nafisi's use of imagery and detail, I felt as though I knew the girls in the reading class a little better. I could picture them gathering, in secret, to civilly rebel against the revolution. The girls in the class truly to interest me, they are all so different yet they have many similarities. They all are brought together by their need for success. Though the girls are not to be directly compared to Lolita, I can understand how they fit together. Lolita was someone who was treated like an object, instead of a person-- there was a man in her life who had no regards for her rights. He was taking away her individuality just like the women of Iran's individuality was being taken away. Both Lolita, and the girls in the small reading group refuse to back down, they are all fighting back and staying strong in their own ways.
Like Mary stated above, there are so many layers to this novel and so many different ways to interpret the true intention of the author, I'm looking forward to discuss this book in greater detail with the class!


James Malzone | 8 comments A word that popped into my mind quite frequently while reading Part One of Reading Lolita in Tehran is “escapism”. Azar Nafisi sets the scene of post-Revolution life in the Islamic Republic of Iran through her memories of several young people all wishing to escape their oppressors (who are, in this case, the entire government.) The girls Nafisi chose to attend her private (and secret) literature discussion classes all long to escape the veils and inequality that patrol their lives. In Part One, Nafisi describes how she and her students escaped their terrible daily lives through discussing and analyzing banned literature, such as Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. This theme of escapism is introduced early on in the book, as she delves right into detailing her class’s first book, Lolita.

While Nafisi states that, in comparing their lives in Iran to the novel, “[they] were not Lolita, the Ayatollah was not Humbert and this republic was not what Humbert called his princedom by the sea…”, she can’t help but draw connections between their lives and the lives of Humbert Humbert and his Lolita. A particularly remarkable aspect of this book is the in-depth analysis of classical literature; Nafisi seems to not mind establishing her position as a scholar of Western classics. In Lolita, she states, the unreliable narrator Humbert Humbert escapes into an elaborate fantasy, a projection of his own desires and ideals onto a helpless 12-year-old girl. This is mirrored in real life (or at least by how Nafisi sees it) by the Iranian government’s projections of an ideal Islamic society onto the realities of the people of Iran. Humbert accuses Lolita of being a seductress, just as any government official can accuse any innocent person of being guilty of “western decadence”. And just like Rumana said, both Humbert and the Republic fail in fully controlling their subjects, only prompting them to act more cruelly. However, despite the similarities in both, it is very important to note that they can’t taken as the same; a work of fiction is not real life and thus should not be treated as such. Nafisi points this out with the government’s banning of books, and this point plays a much larger role in Part Two.

It is also mirrored, as Nafisi describes, by the projection of our own lives onto a book. Unlike On the Road which took its precious time to reveal itself as noteworthy to me, Reading Lolita in Tehran comes off as special right off the bat by not only acting as the author’s memoir, but also addressing much deeper themes more relatable to the reader. Throughout Part One Nafisi asks, why do we read? She answers it by saying that we read not just to escape our own lives, and the happiness and sadness and anger that come with it, into fictional worlds created by authors, but also to perhaps leave the book with more meaning to bring into our own lives. Nafisi can’t help but compare Lolita to life in Tehran, maybe because she can’t help but see aspects of one in the other.


message 11: by Iris (new)

Iris (iris_feng) | 6 comments Imagination, not mentioning the pursuit of one’s dream, is forbidden under the Islamic Republic of Iran. Azar Nafisi hopes to discover the dreams of her seven female students as she describes, “this class was the color of [her] dream” (11). These few hours of gathering offer an escape to Nafisi and her students from the “blind censor”. Nafisi constantly compares the two worlds inside and outside of class. They seek to find out “which of these two worlds was more real, and to which did [they] really belong to” (26). These girls wander between the pursuit of freedom and pressure from family and society. One of the most terrifying things is the loss of one’s identity and value. As an outsider, I had a hard time to fully empathize with the life of Iranian women. Nafisi conveys the manipulation of contemporary society through the stories of her students and her own experience. Aside from the totalitarian regime, the girls rediscover themselves as breathing human beings in classes other than the suppressed objects in society.

The story of Lolita provokes a strong sense of resentment against Iranian regime within me. The juxtaposition between Iranian society and Lolita depicts Nafisi’s attitude towards the suppression. What disturbs me the most is not the horrific rape of the twelve-year-old, but rather the recreation of Lolita. Mental destruction exceeds the detrimental effect of physical abuse. Nafisi implies “the confiscation of one individual’s life by another” in Iranian regime. The society shapes the citizens according to its dream by destroying their individuality and ideology. After I first mistake Lolita for an extensive metaphor of the Islamic Republic, I realize the Islamic women “are not Lolita, the Ayatollah was not Humbert and this republic was not what Humbert called his princedom by the sea” as Nafisi explains (35). Her rational tone intrigues me as I discover her purpose-not to critique Islamic Republic but rather to portray a sense of hope through Vladimir Nabokov’s work. Perhaps Nabokov inspires Nafisi with his hopeful celebration and defense of life that Lolita is deprived of (33). I understand the hope behind celebration but still compare the fate of Lolita with the subjugation of Muslim women. With her past stolen and present invented by Humbert, Lolita “only come[s] to life through her prison bars” (37). The intimacy of victim and jailor disturbs me as I draw parallel between Lolita and Islamic Republic. The fixed butterfly, accentuated by Nafisi, conveys Humbert’s moral indifference towards other matters, and most importantly the symbolism depicts his recreation of another living human being. The same ignorance applies to Islamic Republic as it robs individual freedom. Nafisi embraces literature because it celebrates against “the betrayals, horrors and infidelities” and creates affirmation of life (47). Fiction offers freedom that reality denies for Muslim women. Many often see and shape themselves through other’s eyes, especially those they despise. From Lolita to Cincinnatus, the hero in Invitation to a Beheading, Nafisi enriches the girls with Western classics in hope of inspiring them to realize their subjugation and to search for their identify that totalitarian regime and contemporary executioners contempt.

I see hope in “Lolita” as the girls take down their veil and voice their opinions freely. I hope these women extend the hope and celebration beyond the work of literature as they take responsibility for changing the contemporary conditions in the next three sections.


message 12: by Haley (new)

Haley Dowdie | 8 comments When I first began Reading Lolita in Tehran I found myself disconnected. As I read on, and as the narrator began talking about the book I began noticing relationships to these women, the society they live in, and the stories they read together.
After researching the story line to Lolita I found it ironic that women of such a strict, reserved society would read a story that contained just about everything their culture was against. Yet reading on, I realized these women feel a connection to the character Lolita. Their own experiences, though not as extreme, relate to those of Lolita.
I grew a great appreciation for these women for doing something so brave, so forbidden, simply for pleasure. It reminded me a lot of African Americans reading books and wanting to read during times of slavery and segregation. Reading for African American slaves back then was like an escape from the harsh world they lived in, much like that of these women. This comparison says an awful lot about the Islamic society and the restrictions they put on women, much like Americans put on the blacks. In a sense these women are like great rebels for pursuing the “western”, improper, offensive, literature. Reading the western literature allows these women to rebel against society and in doing so “fashion her universe… through imagination and reflection”.
Iran’s moral codes put heavy restraints on Islamic women’s conduct, physical appearance, and even personal lives. Humbert, from Lolita, slightly mirrors the Iranian society. Also the women of Iran slightly mirror Lolita. The author describes Lolita as a butterfly and how Humbert has her tied down, fixing her as “a living breathing human being, to become stationary”. Like Lolita, the women of Azar’s class are forced into a lifestyle and manner by the power of the state and social/ moral codes.
Iranian society sees to it that the women do not draw sexual attention to themselves. The precautions women must take not to be reprimanded by the men of their society, are simply cruel. As I read I got to thinking about this society and their focus on not drawing sexual attention to the women. It appears as though they seek to preserve women’s innocence. Yet the little things like eating an apple “ too seductively” almost makes them seem sick and obsessive for even viewing young girls eating mannerisms as seductive (especially something as mundane as eating an apple). Are they much different than Humbert? Yes, Humbert stifles the innonce of Lolita clearly, yet by condemning the Iranian women’s sexuality, the men of Iranian society appear to be drawing more attention to the issue. Maybe, these men are just less surfaced Humberts. The whole system seeks to protect women and preserve their innocence, yet the women face greater harm physically and emotionally through the strict social codes. These women, like Lolita, have little freedom from their keepers. As a result, the women in Azar’s class seek the only refuge available to them; secretly reading Lolita and author unacceptable works of literature in a book club.


message 13: by Amanda (new)

Amanda Ramsey | 6 comments I don't know if this jumped out at anyone else, but the use of the word "upsilamba" stuck out at me. This word became something used by all of the brave women in Nafisi's reading class, but they all had a different idea about what it meant. Out of my own curiosity, I looked up the definition of the word... well, I looked it up on "Urban Dictionary"--though it's not a credible source, it definitely interested me and gave me a little insight. Along with the quotes from the book, a definition was: "a word whose definition is your own individual discretion (similar to supercalifragilisticexbealadocious, haha. To the women in "Reading Lolita in Tehran", the word has a similar meaning.

The girls first came across this word back in the "spring of 1994" (20) while they were reading the novel, "Invitation to a Beheading", which is frequently mentioning throughout the section. At first, "no one in class had bothered to as what the word meant" (20), which I am sure none of you, including myself, did at first. But, I am asking you guys!-- What does "upsilamba" mean to you?

To Nafisi, "upsilamba" is "suspended joy.
To Yassi, it is a dance.
To Manna, it is "the image of a small silver fish leaping in and out of a moonlit lake"
To Sanaz, it is "a small African boy's secret magical name"
To Azin, it is "a sound, a melody"
To Mitra, it is "the paradox of a blissful sigh"
To Nassrin, it is "the magic code that opened the door To a secret cave filled with treasure"
To me, it is a word that is used to express happiness so rare, it is used when no word in existence would be satisfactory to use.


message 14: by James (new)

James Hickey | 4 comments Lack of a Past
I thought a little background information on Iran was necessary. The Iranian revolution replaced the former Shah and the monarchy that ruled Iran with an Islamic Republic headed originally by Khomeini, a strict Muslim. He banned democratic practices in the country claiming them as destructive western ideals, appointed his own government and was declared supreme leader of Iran. Going against the government or Khomeini was considered to be going against god as all of the laws were based off of Islam.
The changes created by Khomeini the differences between the colors of Nafisi’s past and the uniform reality of the Iran her students live in. As Nafisi points out this shows that unlike her, the students do not have a past because they have been stripped of their uniqueness by the government. Unlike Nafisi they do not miss the things the government suppresses such as self expression, relations with the opposite sex and anything that could be considered western or against Islamic law because they never had a chance to experience them. They only know the suppression of the government and their only escape is in the secret class. This is one of the major connections they make with Lolita. Humbert not only damages the girl physically but he also destroys any chance for a normal childhood. He robs her of a normal family and she only endures his cruelty because she has nowhere else to go. Much like the women in Iran have little choice but to endure the harsh restrictions and the veil. It’s a very accurate comparison as both Lolita and women of Iran become possessions that are made to reflect their captors. The women are required to hide themselves and become invisible in public robbing them of any originality that they can only show while in the sole company of women, as they do in the class. And while Lolita is really Dolores and is only called Lolita by Humbert, the comparison between Invitation to a Beheading and the secret class is more fitting. The women’s originality is confined to that one room because society is uncomfortable with it much like why Cincinnatus C. is imprisoned for being opaque in a transparent world. They want to find a secret world to escape into as Cincinnatus C. does right before he is executed. The class is their only form of protest against the suppression of the government and a way to keep from dancing with their jailor.


message 15: by Lyvia (last edited Aug 31, 2012 03:42PM) (new)

Lyvia Couseillant | 8 comments Part 1: Lolita

After reading "The Namesake" and then "Pride and Prejudice, i had only one more novel left to read: "Reading Lolita in Tehran". I was a bit skeptical and hesitant when it came time to read this book. After reading the first page i was scared i wasn't going to be able to fully comprehend the rest of the novel, thinking of how complicated it could turn out to beNafisi formed a group composed of seven of her best students to meet in her home and discuss literature. The seven were all women, as a mixed group would arouse suspicion from the Islamic authorities. One male student insisted on being part of the group, and he met with Nafisi separately. The group met for two years under the general theme of the relationship between reality and fiction. When the group started reading "Lolita" i wasn't to excited to learn what it was about it kind of surprised me how that part of that section really boggled my mind for a bit but after a while i was able to cope. I also found it very interesting how Nafisi could find a connection between her students and Lolita, how just like Lolita the girls were living behind their own bars in the eyes of their captors. I like how the women were able to be themselves while i their class able to say what they wanted and how they felt without it violating some kind of rule or law, the class was like an escape for them.


message 16: by Taela (new) - added it

Taela | 7 comments Part 1 : Lolita

When I first picked up this book I thought " O God this will would be a boring and hard story to understand " And I was half wrong , It was a little confusing at some parts but the story kept me interested. The first Part of story is titled Lolita and I was wondering who is Lolita ? I thought it was person but it was a book that Azar Nafisi’s private secret book club was reading in the first part of the story. Chapter 1 was narrated by the teacher Nafisi who used to teach at the University of Allamen Tabatbai . She is described as a committed and caring person, who invited some of her best students to her home for a private literature class.

Azar Nafisi describes her students physical look and their characters. “ I have the two photographs in front of me now . In the first there are seven women, standing against a white wall.They are according to the law of the land, dressed in black robes and headscarves, covered except for the oval of their faces and their hands. In the second photograph the same group, in the same position , stands against the same wall. Only they have taken off their covering. Splashes of color separate one from the next “ ( 4) . This quote makes me think how different women are treated around the world. I always understood how this was illegal for women in some countries . Doing things that the common American women does in the United States for example in some muslim countries like Saudi Arabia women can't drive. I think that all women should have a choice , of what they wear to an education. Also Azar talked about the treatment of female student , the were look down upon for doing things that every day people would do. Nafisi would hear the female student getting in trouble for running up the stairs , for talking to boys and for having makeup in their possession. The treat of the women in Azar’s class is similar to the actions toward “ Lolita a young innocent girl that has to have certain lifestyle the society in Iran created for the women. I believe that certain (creepy; perverted) men should change the way they think.Life for women in the Islamic Republic was hard , the society is very strict on the female.

In general the Revolution in Tehran was a big deal for Muslims. I find it very interesting how the Iranian people lied to the Revolutionary Guards “Can we tell the Revolutionary Guards the truth ? We lie to them (17). Some lie to the guards to keep their family safe. The banning of certain books ,alcohol and satellite dishes, that is a part of the law in Iran ?

I think the main reason that Azar chose the book Lolita for the women to read is because there was a connection to the women.


message 17: by Joshua (new)

Joshua Gaviola | 5 comments Jumping into the plot without too much information on the Iranian Revolution made understanding the first part of the book a little difficult. I (not being too involved in politics, much less other countries) don’t know too much about how countries run and didn’t know off-the-top that Iran was in a state where Democracy wasn’t accepted. Through Nafisi’s parallelism and comparisons, I was able to get a general grasp of the situation.
As they speak about the book “Lolita” by Vladimir Nabokov, the situation in Iran’s Republic got clearer. Though and extreme comparison, the young girl and the man who molested her was a good way to describe their society. The man being larger and stronger than the girl by herself represented the Republicans of Tehran taking full control through oppressing the people of Iran. It’s almost the perfect comparison but in a somewhat twisted way. I personally think that the comparison between molester/child and government/people is giving little to no credit to the people that are under the control of the government. I think they deserve a little bit more credit because a large group of people like the Iranian people could easily bring someone up to change their lives for the better. An organized revolution will always make a change unless the people are satisfied with the state of their government. At this point, the comparison of molester/child and government/people could be unprecedented.
When Nafisi begins to explain how her students look and how they are from different areas, I find her brave to attempt to practice something out of the ordinary in a country where uniqueness is looked down upon and almost banned. To have Nafisi gather up all the students into one area and do what’s socially frowned upon is really brave and almost audacious, considering she knows what the government would say and/or do as a reaction to these defying actions. I feel that things like this in an oppressive society like the Republic of Iran are important to give people hope that they don’t have to be under the oppression if they really didn’t want to.


message 18: by Amalia (new)

Amalia Quesada | 8 comments Azar Nafisi’s compelling account of her own experiences teaching in Persian universities, her interactions with her husband, her students and others, and her knowledge of literature surely create a story for her audience to cherish. I admired Nafisi’s strong character throughout the entire book. Her choice to boldly go against traditional Islamic ideals, especially as a woman, to decide what she could and could not teach was inspiring. I loved her idea to host a secret literature class in her own home, there was a thrill in envisioning these women risking a great deal and going against their customs for a common love for literature. The interactions between her and the students and among the students themselves, through this secret literature society, form a prominent theme of identity in the novel. I realized while reading that the literature group the women formed is more than just an average book club. While residing in Nafisi’s apartment, the women were able to remove their robes, scarves, and images the public eye has and expects of them, relaxing in more comfortable clothing, as well as their own skin and selves. Nafisi claims that the Islamic women are prisoners of their own society.
Throughout the novel, there is a constant desire for freedom and to escape from the customs that keep these women chained to the ground. Nafisi uses several symbols to represent the battle between imprisonment and liberation. One symbol of freedom, Nafisi describes, is "when [her] students came into that room, they took off more than their scarves and robes" (6). Another symbol would be the green gate, in which the women walk past every time they go to the university, a sort of transporter that allows them to escape from reality, and enter into their world of hopes and dreams for a moment’s time. The women are not allowed to use the gate, solely because they are of the female gender. The gate is a symbol that the women are revolutionaries, searching equality among the place of men, almost a motivator. But it is also a reminder, a hold on reality that although it is alright for them to rebel, they must be careful in being self-aware of their limitations, or face the consequences. Coming together to read and learn is so important to the women, even if they are putting themselves on the line, because it allows them to dream. If they cannot dream, they truly become prisoners of not only society, but of themselves, because they can never find their true identities. Dreaming allows them to come to terms with themselves, and as long as they keep that up, they will not be jailed.


message 19: by Catherine (new)

Catherine Poirier | 8 comments Azar Nafisi is clearly a very strong minded and intriguing woman. One thing that I loved about this memoir was the politics and history that it ties into. Nafisi draws connections from the literature her groups read to the daily life of women in the Islamic Republic. Connections between literature and reality have always piqued my interest – is it fair that we compare the two? I think so, I know that many were upset by the connections that Nafisi made. However, I think that we must keep in mind that all literature, no matter how grotesque, takes inspiration from our world. Writers are motivated by current topics and issues, and I believe that by comparing literature with our world that we can draw parallels and differences and learn from those connections.
However, initially Nafisi and her group read these works of literature with innocent and excited view points. They were reading to “escape from reality in the sense that [they] could marvel at their beauty and perfection,” and forget about the tyrannical regime in their country (38). She also points out that this younger generation seems to be reading just for this purpose, to learn the works and beauty of great writers, unlike her generation which was interested in ideologies and political positions (39). I found this really interesting because for me, literature is a little of both – it is a balance between the appreciating the art of a writer, and learning how to apply that art to the world around me. For these Iranian students to be focusing on the beauty aspect of literature amazes me, that it is the focus despite the struggle of instability they face.
Nafisi introduces us to her seven students in this literary group. One of their stories particularly interested me because Nafisi does point out something that taps into the hypocrisy, irony, and instability of Iran. Mahshid was brought up by a devout Muslim father and had worn her veil before the revolution. Her veil wearing had been voluntary before the revolution, but since then, it was a forced act (13). The hypocrisy and irony of this, is that Mahshid was jailed after the revolution because of her “affiliation with a dissident religious organization” (13). Iran is country forcing its people to all be celebrated Muslims, forcing veils on woman, and punishing those who do not abide. But Mahshid, already a devout Muslim was punished for doing so because of the Iranian revolution. It’s horrifying to me that the Islamic Republic of Iran was such a totalitarian regime at this point.


message 20: by Rebecca (new)

Rebecca Broomstein | 5 comments Much like many of my fellow classmates above, I was pretty intimidated by this book. 1) I'm not a very politically-involved person and I don't know much about how other countries are run (this includes Iran), and 2) I have never read "Lolita". Right off the bat, I knew that understanding this novel was going to be tough. Fortunately, reading about Azar Nafisi's book club and each of her individual students' stories in Part I, I quickly got a feel for the Iranian government and their anti-democratic/totalitarian customs. From what I gathered from Sanaz's experience with the law, as well as Mahshid's, women are very limited when it comes to their rights. They're seen as less worthy than the men in their society by the government. I found it almost unsettling to read about their hardships, because for one, I wasn't expecting such restraint on the woman characters and also, it's so different from the society/government that I've grown up in. Although the difference was a little hard to look past at first, Nafisi's brilliant sense of imagery and detail made it exceptionally easy to get lost in the lives of her students.
Nafisi's bravery and passionate soul is strongly evident in that she's even holding a book club in such a restricting society. The comfort that her students share in her presence also says a lot about her character. The girls feel at ease when in Nafisi's apartment, so much so that they are even comfortable enough to remove their headdresses and any other garments forced upon them by their government. The main thing I find most admirable about Nafisi is the influence she has on her students.
Iran's restrictions put on its women heighten Nasifi's students' excitement, making the whole situation heart-warming to read about. You can almost feel the bond formed between these girls when reading about the risks each of them are taking simply by attending each meeting.
I couldn't help but wonder what kind of consequences the club entails, though. It's almost frightening to think about, and makes me worry for them.


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