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Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books
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Reading Lolita in Tehran > Reading Lolita in Tehran, Part 4: Austen

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Ryan Gallagher (ryangallagher) | 24 comments Mod
Reading Lolita in Tehran, Part 4: Austen


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Rumana Papia | 8 comments One of Nafisi’s students claims the Islamic Republic bears two faces, “the one of words and the one of reality.” While the one of words is filled with promises of reform, its evident by the looks of life in Tehran that promises aren’t being fulfilled since women are still being reprimanded for having their fingernails too long or mistakenly showing off a strand of hair from under their chador. The successor to Ayatollah Khomeini, Ali Khamenei uses Islam as a weapon of strength to gain respect. He is doing nothing out of the norm, just following the footsteps of his predecessors. The politicians formed a tradition of incorporating Islamic religion into the government so deep that it transformed and made its way into becoming the foundation to their nation. In the politicians race to gain the most fame, and power, Tehranian society specifically, steadily and inevitably forms a strong negative viewpoint on sex.
Here is where the theme of censorship comes in. People and groups like the Republic of Tehran’s regime bear a characteristic where they choose to stay “blind to others problems and pains,” they only see things in black or white, they see no layers in humans nor in ideas. These people interpreted the words of the Qur’an as claiming sex means evil and that is the message these politicians choose to spread to every street of the country also as a way to promote themselves as superior. The effects of this way of self-promotion is extremely influential since even the intelligent women of Nafisi’s classes see sex as the way Khamenei wanted which is by relating it to a type of evil and weakness.
Parallelism is evident between Humbert of the novel Lolita, and Ayatollah Khomeini, leader of the Republic of Tehran’s regime in the way both aspire to obtain control on the life of another/others. While Humbert nearly accomplishes the task of acquiring Lolita, physically at least, Khomeini does or tries to do a similar task by aiming to control each aspect of the lives of Tehran’s people. For this he utilizes the Islamic religion, the morality police, violence, he uses the war as a scapegoat to attract souls to his growing army. Humbert makes it so Lolita has absolutely no other option to live other than to accept him, which is mimicked in the way the Ayatollah tries to create situations in the lives of the people of Tehran so there is no option other than to follow his words.
By relating sex to evil, the women and men of the nation knowingly and unknowingly base their entire lives and each aspect of it around it. Women can’t wear what they desire, talk how they desire let alone breathe how they prefer since their each and every move is considered the “source of all temptation.” All these religion based enforced laws act as chains, preventing these women from being able to love themselves. It acts as a barrier, preventing them from letting their minds wonder which is dangerous for the politicians since if people begin thinking about and demanding individual rights, then the government's power will have the risk of shaking. After All, “Islam ha[d] become a business” for these politicians and when it comes to power, everything goes, even influencing the minds of the public so thoroughly that their entire way of life revolves around the one that that they are supposedly shunning.


Natalie Fallano | 8 comments Out of all 4 parts I could comprehend "Austen" the best because I am familiar with the story Pride and Prejudice because I saw the movie. An interesting part of this section was Nafisi's explaining of the flow of Pride and Prejudice. She compares it to "dance and digression" in which "the balance between the public and the private is essential to this world" (267). Characters like Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy are expected to keep their thoughts and emotion in check, as well as get to know each other. What caught me attention about this comparison is the world balance. A few pages ahead Nafisi talks about the relation of personal and political. She credits the Islamic republic for "blurring the boundaries and lines between the personal and the political, thereby destroying both" (273). The breakage of this interdependence led to destruction because the government began to talk control of Iran's personal life and attempted to ride the country of individuality. This of course goes against human rights and is why so many, including Nafisi's students wanted to leave. It was not poverty or education that drew them away from Iran, but the desire for everyday freedoms they were deprived of their entire lives. There are many instances in the novel where we see this deprivation including the forced wearing of the veil and the no alcohol policy. But the story that emphasized this the most (at least for me) was the concert.
Nassrin invites Nafisi and her family to tag along to a concert with her and her boyfriend. She retells "we were greeted by a gentlemen who insulted the audience for a good fifteen or twenty minutes" (300). The band can only play their instruments and are not permitted to sing or "demonstrate any enthusiasm for what they were doing" because it would be un-Islamic (300). I found this so bizarre, especially the fact that this hall was packed with eager people. Music is connected to human nature and brings out emotion to everyone. I could not even imagine going to a concert and not being allowed to hum, sing along, or dance. It is dehumanizing to tell people not to cry or yell or love.
Nafisi explains that what sets Austen apart, is that the evils she writes about are part of domestic life. This makes them more scary because they can happen to anybody. The only way to conquer this evil is "through love and imagination" (315). But what is tragic for these Iranian women is that the domestic evils of their lives are much larger than that. They have to deal with worse evils than the average person. And again, the solution to their problem, love and imagination, is considered evil in Iran. It is not supposed to be a part of everyday life.
Some like Mahteb believe that it is an obligation to remain Iran and contribute to its progress. But I think when one is deprived of human rights for so long, leaving ids the obvious desire and is justified. These women survived many horrors and have proved to be the strongest of the lot.


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Jackie Galvez | 8 comments Overall this had to be the most uplifting part of the section. The Professor finally got her family out of the country and into America where her children could actually have a childhood. But what was the best is that she actually stumbled upon one of her old students in a coffee shop years later. Now while she wasn’t one of her special students she actually kept a lot of what she was taught into her real life. Miss Ruhi is the symbolism that while you may not agree with everything that goes along you make the best of the situation. But what really stuck out to me from this reunion is what Miss Ruhi said to the Professor; if you give your child a name with a meaning they will become like their namesake. I couldn’t help but think of Gogol and how he ended up with Nikhil just like his parents wanted once he started school.
Also the fact that Austen was the author of this section was strange. Not because of anything other than that the character Daisy is still and always the most mentioned literary character. It seems that regardless of which of the authors are being mentioned Daisy seems to follow into every section of the book. Daisy for me wouldn’t be someone I would pick to be a good role model or person to know. But it seems that authors from that time period always had the same name for their young female protagonists so it could be that the Daisy I am thinking of is completely different from the Daisy Miss Ruhi is referring to so venerably as she did.
This section also opened up my eyes to some of the choices women could do with their relationships as well. The Professors special students up to this point seemed to be quite different than all the other female university students; but yet they would still do as others did. As is seen in the case of discussing temporary marriage as a logical choice. Since they were such highly intellectual beings the thought of belittling something holy and sacred just because it was a legitimate option by law. What was also surprising of this is that Manna brought up a very good point. As each generation goes on they have fewer choices than the one before it.
People will marry for everything but what should be the real reason for such a union as Azin pointed out, whether it is for financial stability, green cards or because their parents forced them to. The degradation of a marriage status becomes almost an obsession for the Professor. Did anyone she encountered marry for love? All the obsessions that the Professor begins to have is her survival guide, just like how she used to stay up all night during a bombing while everyone slept and how she collected all the martyrs pictures and obituaries, she coped with her situation in a way that made her not lose her mind.


Mary | 8 comments I was particularly struck by this section. I felt as if Nafisi as an author really came into a new light for me. She seemed more understanding of the girls' situation as she began to make her own decision regarding leaving Tehran.

Nafisi really steps us when she notes that she wondered if she was simply creating a parallel fantasy of the West to that of the "fantasy" which the Islam Republic had become. She did seem to romanticize America, not only through her personal anecdotes, but even subliminally through the works of fiction she chooses- a man in love with a 12 year old (a common practice in Iran) who was able to escape her captor (something not so common), the glamorous lifestyles of the characters in The Great Gatsby, the girls of Pride and Prejudice who would rather marry for love than have an arranged marriage, and above all, strong and courageous female characters, Dolores Haze, Catherine Sloper, Daisy Miller, etc. Girls that seemingly only exist in the Western world, giving Nafisi's girls the false idea that the only way they can make something of themselves or do anything of value is to leave behind the life they unfortunately know so well.

However, what brought about a new feeling of respect for Nafisi in me is her realization of this fantasy she had created and her insistence to the girls that that was merely her chosen path and not necessarily right for the other girls. If all these girls left, who'd be around to stand up for women's rights? If the girls simply get sick of life in the Islamic Republic and decide to flee, who will be the catalyst for change? While some girls, such as Nassrin, in my opinion would flourish in a western country, I feel as if others could really blossom into strong intellectuals within their home country.

As for the comparison, I thought Austen was a wonderful writer to bring the Thursday class back into focus. Especially with the idea that Austen's villains were everyday people. The domestic fears she portrayed were more akin to what the girls were used to. Except for those who have experienced the Western world, young girls like Yassi were born and raised into this world and it is the norm for them. These issues of men being superior, arranged marriages, marriages without love; they are all common issues to these girls. As Nafisi notes, the line between public and political is blurred- these girls are trapped in a society that has taken on the shape of the villain, with no heroine to save the day. Things have become so skewed in the eyes of these poor girls that as Rumana had noted earlier, they essentially fear their needs, sexuality and their own bodies.

Overall, this chapter was probably my favorite. Not only because of the seemingly "happy ending" that befalls Nafisi and a few of the girls but because of how Nafisi seems to evolve as an author.


James Malzone | 8 comments Nafisi uses Part 4 to solidify several claims she makes throughout the whole of Reading Lolita in Tehran, as she brings the story back to the secret Thursday classes that opened the book. Every week she and a select few students who she grew particularly close to would meet to discuss banned Western literature. These classes are a manifestation of the need Nafisi constantly claims in the book to escape: to escape the trials of living in post-revolutionary Iran into not a physical hideout, but into the imagination, which the novel is a vessel for.

She makes very clear the importance of distinguishing the novel and reality, how a work of fiction cannot simply be applied to real life, and vice versa. She tries to make this point as clear as possible because she, herself, made the mistake of applying the fiction her class read to the reality of the Iran in which they lived. Her magician tells her that Jane Austen "didn't allow her work, her imagination, to be swallowed up by the society around her." At this point Nafisi realizes the importance of having an imagination to escape into, offering a glimmer of hope while oppressive forces threaten to rob you of everything else. She states that fiction offers us "a critical way of appraising and grasping the world - not just our world but that other world that had become the object of our desires." This is the distinction Nafisi makes between fiction and reality: good fiction doesn't shape the world but rather assists us in understanding it.

Perhaps the Western world Nafisi creates for the girls in her class is not for the ultimate good, however. She picks her books without realizing she is revealing to these girls emotions and feelings and images they would never have been exposed to otherwise. The catch is that these images and emotions are of a Western world. Nafisi through her class creates a fantasy world parallel to the fantasy world the Iranian government created - a world of hope and freedom to challenge the world of religious fervor. I really liked this concept in the book because it offered a real conflict for Nafisi, one that seemed legitimate and tangible, unlike several other conflicts in the book. By unveiling this world to her girls, Nafisi plants in their heads the idea of leaving the country altogether, something cemented by her own plans to leave. Mahtab believes it important to stay and fight in her home country, to resist the oppressive forces of the government and work for positive change. But the other girls realize that this is a fluke and want to leave (Nafisi reveals in the epilogue that almost all of them did leave.) Nafisi is responsible for this - is she helping these girls or hurting her country's chances at a brighter future?

With having read the whole book, I feel like a lot of the history of the new Islamic regime that polices Nafisi's life I didn't understand, as she doesn't necessarily explain why the new government came to power, or how it did. AP World History (or what little remains of it I still remember) did help while reading; essentially I could piece together that the people of Iran were upset with the pompous Shah in rule, and led a revolution against his corruption, only to have the country's troubles swing in the complete opposite direction. Still, this leaves a lot of confusion, maybe stemming from my lack of knowledge of the Qur'an or Islam or revolutionary Iranian politics.

This was one of the two books that were required by everyone in the AP Lit class to read, and after reading I can understand why this could be a nice start to a course on studying literature. Nafisi writes of gender roles and politics and government and oppression and the sorts, but at the heart of the novel she, as a reviewer on the back of the cover states, "reminds us why we read in the first place." Why the novel is important is the central theme of the book, and we read to be reminded of its importance: by reading of the lives of others, it helps us understand our own lives.


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Haley Dowdie | 8 comments After reading all four parts, I have found Austen to be the most thought provoking. Nevertheless the novel as a whole allowed me to realize new things about literature, women, the United States, happiness, and freedom. I can honestly say I appreciate literature a little more because of this novel (though reading it is not my favorite activity).

The author switches time frames throughout the novel. At the beginning of the final section, the novel has returned about to the point it was at in the beginning- back with the literary group. Through these changes the author frames the story a bit, starting in the beginning, providing history, and then returning to the present. This framing allows the audience to further understand the context of the story, the characters, and the narrator.

Pride and Prejudice was of the Regency Era, just short of the Victorian era. After doing some research I discovered that during this time period women were pretty much “property” of their husbands. Women were also unable to receive jobs, so their financial security was held in the hands of the betrothed. Note this time period was the early 1800’s. The women of Iran, even in the twentieth century, still follow this patriarchal tradition with more extremes such as wearing the veil in covering almost their entire bodies. In a sense, this Iranian society has yet to evolve from those bounding, sexist, dull times of the 18 century, if not “way behind Jane Austen’s times”(259) as Manna suggested. With society placing limits on women physically and economically, the women of Iran feel they are stuck in a land barren of individual freedom.

While reading about Iranian women’s suffering, I got to thinking about what makes happiness or better yet, what it means to be free. Yes, these women are not chained down as slaves (unless arrested or jailed of course). Yet, in an abstract sort of way, these women are chained down. They may be free to walk around (in some cases) as they please, but still they lack the freedom to think, believe, or pursue what they want. These women are slaves to their society. They aren’t equally protected under the law. Problems arise when they seek to move away. Military workers/the law harass the women. The people of Tehran are unable to read the books of their choice.

In the United States we take for granted these gifts. They seem as though they should be a god- given right. Yet Iranian men and women are dying just for reading the same books many students simply sparknote in class. Americans really do not appreciate or realize how fortunate they are. I can’t recall which page exactly but I believe the narrator writes about suffering and noticing your own fortune from other’s struggles. Maybe it is wrong, or just sad that it takes witnessing others’ suffering to appreciate your own life.

Though Reading Lolita in Tehran may not have been the most thrilling novels, it certainly stimulated some thoughts and evoked new ideas and morals. The author’s use of the other women’s stories and history greatly enhanced the memoir as a whole. Great issues are discussed in this memoir that impact women and men across the globe; definitely worth while to understand, especially because the issue is so current.


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Ashly | 8 comments After Reading all four sections of the book, I found this segment to be surprisingly scandalous. Nafisi focuses on the works of Jane Austen and truly reflects her life and the lives of her students upon these works. This section took an unexpected turn, Stemming from everything else Nafisi discussed throughout the book, I would have never expected the issues that Nafisi and her students discussed. Conversing about men, marriages and sex brought out a different and more intimate side of the characters. These controversial and forbidden topics highlighted some of the personal views and problems these women faced in their own lives. Austen provided Nafisi and her students with a chance to talk about what was really on their minds: marriage and the individual freedom of women.

The idea of freedom is scary for most women in Iran but, they escape with books like The Pride and Prejudice. The Iranian women who defy these laws remove their gloves, robes, and covers whenever they are in each other’s presence. Nafisi associates the way that Jane Austen’s time period connects to that of the Iranian women. With further research, I was able to learn that woman in 19th century English society were belived to be less intelligent and capable than men but like Nafisi, Austin considered their inferior status in society to be unjust. For Iranian women amongst this vast revolution, it was no different. The Iranian government was restricting; their desires for privacy and reflection were continually being adjusted in a society that kept them under its constant scrutiny.

Reading Lolita in Tehran might have been long and strenuous, but I found my self relating to more issues in this section than any other. As I read, I found myself connecting Nafisi’s idea of women’s rights to history in general. Looking back through out history women had never had it easy. They were seen as property, something to be kept away from everything else in the world but the kitchen. With that in mind, I respect Nafisi’s determination and drive to educate the seven women in her book club. Under Nafisi’s influence these women painted a detailed portrait of the world in which they were living in. Each distinctive and memorable in her own right, Nafisi and her students put their security, their freedom, and their lives on the line in order to discuss the literary works of Vladimir Nabokov, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Henry James, and Jane Austen. In the midst of morality raids and missile fire, these women stood up in the face of tyranny, removed their veils, and lived both bravely and boldly.


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Lyvia Couseillant | 8 comments Part 4: Austen

In this section you notice how the Iran-Iraq war brought some sort of spark in women, it was seen by educated women as a way to gain even more equality. In fact, the revolution brought about a disastrous rollback of women's rights. I don't really understand the magician part though, does the magician represent something or someone else ?. In this section the magician tells Nafisi to stop blaming the Islamic Republic for all their problems, admitting that it felt good having a scapegoat for all the problems. Nafisi tells the magician about the multitude of problems her girls were having in their lives and how unhappy they were. The magician responds in saying that happiness cannot emerge from being a victim and that happiness must be fought for and attained. Political freedom depends on individual freedom. Nafisi's secret class is important in this regard because it helped the girls to win back their imaginations. He recommends that Nafisi spend less time and energy focusing on what the regime does and says, and more time on creating the democratic space that is the Thursday class, however small it may be.


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Prince Mukala | 4 comments In part 4 of this novel one particular excerpt jumped out at me because of its focus on the subjugation of women and the lack of political freedom for women in Tehran. By now, the author has made it crystal clear that the main purpose of the novel is to describe and explain her connection to literature, freedom, and the lack of choice in her own life. She compares her life in Tehran to “having sex with a man you loathe”(Nafisi 329). Nafisi goes on to clarify that the comparison stems from the fact that life in the Islamic republic can only be tolerable if “you pretend to be somewhere else, you tend to forget your body, you hate your body. Thats what we do over here. We are constantly pretending to be somewhere else”(Nafisi 329). The passage struck a particular chord with me because it underscores the author’s thoughts and beliefs on how people living in Iran,especially women, manage to go through day-by-day despite the turmoil and gloom of the land.
Another issue brought about frequently was the issue of the mental image of Iran. In fact, Nafisi points out the distinction between the “one of words and the one of reality.” People in the revolutionary Iran,the ones who live in reality, have come to the realization that they should expect more of the same from AYatollah Khomeini's successor-although he claims to be a reformer. Women remain persecuted for not wearing a headcovering while teaching at the university, which led to the author’s termination from the university.
The author’s references to Jane Austin stem primarily from the reference to her female protagonist Daisy. The women side with Daisy as a symbol of courage and respect, two qualities the women in the Book club are sadly deprived of each and every day. For me, it seemed as if Nafisi through her abandonment of Iran for America revealed her true attitudes towards the regime in power. By leaving her native country she hints at the reader of the irreconcilable nature of Tehran and Iran in general. The entire 4th section sets itself against the backdrop of Nafisi leaving for the U.S. and the bulk of her students moving in order to escape the regime or to build better lives elsewhere. Perhaps the authors actions illustrate her desire to move to a location that juxtaposes everything she cannot have in Iran. By comparing America to Iran, the reader cannot help but feel like the author wants the reader to value all of the rights and freedoms citizens enjoy in American and other sovereign nations with freedom.
Part 4 wraps up the claims posited in the beginning of the novel and displays the simple power of freedom: the power to release ones own imagination. The biggest crime the Iranian regime committed lay not in the mandatory separation, and covering of womens heads. No, it lay in the imprisonment of the minds of Iranian citizens. They could not imagine a life of emotion, a life of passion; a life without complete submission to the rules set forth by the regime. The fiction novels allowed the girls to imagine worlds and settings that allowed the women to decide who they would be and what they would believe in. Fiction, in short, allows an individual to go beyond the rigid structure of reality and advance to a reality where anything is possible and the only restraint to an individual is the extent of their imagination.


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Iris (iris_feng) | 6 comments In the last chapter of the book, Nafisi develops the subject of imagination, the essential element of a living soul.

It appears that Nafisi teaches or discusses every novel she mentions in the book unintentionally. However, all the works of literature she chooses either create parallelism or contrast to current Iranian society.Austen’s novel consists of many ongoing dialogues among diverse voices. Her ability to let two opposing perspectives coexisting suggests the central democratic aspect of the novel. Austen’s work celebrates the freedom of democratic life. She denounces unsympathetic characters who fail to listen and understand other people’s idea. On a greater perspective, these characters represent current Iranian regime and its “incapacity for tolerance, self-reflection and empathy” (268). In a world of black and white, the regime refuses to understand diversity and rejects the freedom of imagination. In contrast, the female characters of Austen’s novels all dear to love, hate, and say no to their traditional parents and society. “They risk ostracism and poverty to gain love and companionship” for the basic rights of living: “the right to choose” (307).

In the early age of Nafisi’s generation, women were able to choose whom they want to marry. However after they supported revolutionary change, where they sought to demand more rights, women’s social status became valueless. Women, despite differences among religious and ideological belief, come together and initiate protest. War makes Islamic women more aware of their capability and influential potential. The war impact is contradictory to Revolution’s initial intent.

Mary wrote: "Nafisi through her class creates a fantasy world parallel to the fantasy world the Iranian government created - a world of hope and freedom to challenge the world of religious fervor. ..."
Nafisi has revealed her concern for creating a “fantasy” world of the West parallel to that created by Islamic republic. She fears that her stories would harm her students as they look up to something the current society denounces. I strongly agree that Nafisi offers a “world of hope and freedom to challenge the world of religious fervor” like you said. Whether with intent or not, she opens their window of imagination that ceased under the suppression and censorship. From uncertainty on the first day of class to confidence in expressing opinions on literature and life, the girls unconsciously reveal their dreams and passions; and that freedom of mind is the first step towards individual freedom and liberty.

Rumana wrote: " people and groups like the Republic of Tehran’s regime bear a characteristic where they choose to stay “blind to others problems and pains,” they only see things in black or white, they see no layers in humans nor in ideas. ..."
Thank you for pointing out the subject of censorship. This is a political strategy used to gain “power and fame” like you mentions above. In order to preserve the absolute rule, the Islamic Republic sacrifices human rights and destroys all dissident voices including those not politically involved. For example, the secret killing of intellectuals whom, according to the regime, challenge its political structure and most importantly they provide knowledge and a world of possibilities for the citizens.

Hope is the moral support behind life. One of the most depressing moments that triggers my emotion is when Nassrin describes how she misses “sense of solidarity…purpose…[and] hope” during her time in jail (323). According to Nassrin, her jail life is much more hopeful than her time after being freed because that imagination of freedom and life kept her going behind the bars. Now that she is out of jail, she could no longer identify her existence with the cease of fear and desire. I can’t help but imagine thousands of young beautiful Iranian women questioning their ability to love, their meaning of life, and their right of freedom.

Nafisi concludes the book with the ideology of her magician - “the right to free access to imagination” (338) which is the central theme of the novel and also the essential proof of living. Only when one has the ability to speak freely and realize their imagination without any earthly barrier, could he or she live a whole life. Nafisi’s hope is not to praise Western literature and culture but instead she desires the girls to find their identity and “imaginatively realize [themselves] and communicate to the world” (339).

Any great work of literature has the ability to present the complexity of the central issue and also encourage the audience to reflect on current society. Reading Lolita in Tehran advocates the right to imagination and enlightens this generation to appreciate differences and the power of freedom of human beings.


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Taela | 7 comments Part 4 : Austen

I feel that Nafisi left the best book for last. In the beginning Nafisi states that the class enjoyed all the book but the best one was Pride and prejudice. “with Austen , was fun. Sometimes we even went wild- we became childish and teasing and just plain enjoyed ourselves . How could one read the opening sentence of Pride and Prejudice and not grasp that this what Austen demanded of her readers ? ”(258) .

I feel that the last book made the women think about their future. The classes left a positive effect on the women in the class. Happiness and comfort is what the women showed in the class to speak their mind on various topics. And the women weren’t look down upon at azar’s house , they became more confident . The discussed topics on men , love ,sex and marriage ; were really interesting see the student opinions on question like “ Did you fall in love ? How about a temporary marriage? But who is thinking about love these days?

One the biggest topic in this part was comparing living in Iran under the Islamic Republic is similar to the Jane Austen times. “Nowadays girls marry either because their families force them, or to get a green card , or to secure financial stability , or for sex- they marry for all kinds of reasons , but rarely for love. ”(268) I think that statement will alway be true not everyone marries for love. Many women do not really understand what love is. I like that some of student think that they the Iranian people are way behind the “ Jane Austen times”. But I don’t see that much evidence that there is to back that statement up. I disagree with Manna opinion .

I think women rights is play a role in this section because the rules in Iran does not really help out the women only the men in their country and their needs and wants for life in Iran. Also I think temporary marriage are disgusting. The effect of the war made women in Iran more wanting better for themselves. For more equality in their nation. I like how Lyvia put that the magician talking about happiness “happiness cannot emerge from being a victim and that happiness must be fought for and attained. Political freedom depends on individual freedom. Nafisi's secret class is important in this regard because it helped the girls to win back their imaginations.” The class did help the women and Nafisi stay sane with all that was going on their lives. Happiness was something that they did achieve in the class.

In the end Azar moves away from Iran to the US. But not only her some of her students moved away also to have a better life and to start a new journey. In each book the student were able to compare aspect of their lives and past experiences. I found that very interesting, This book was really “a memoir in books.” I really thought I was going to hate this book but I like it.


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Janice Yiu | 6 comments After reading three sections about unfamiliar books, I was so excited to read “Austen,” something I had a lot more knowledge on. I have read “Pride & Prejudice” and seen the movie recently, so I know the general story. I’ve never analyzed the book, so I was looking forward to see how Nafisi and her students would view it. I was also incredibly happy that Nafisi returned to her literature workshops because that was something I really enjoyed.
Reading “Pride & Prejudice” opened up discussions on love and communication. Nafisi and her students talk about the challenges of living under the oppressive regime, like how the regime controlled every aspect of their lives. Nafisi stated that “Living in the Islamic Republic is like having sex with a man you loathe.” (329) The novel kind of serves as a painful reminder of the cruelties women face like marriage, divorce, access to education, and just about every other thing. Nafisi talks about how her mother was able to live a life without worrying about those things, yet after the revolution, those suspected of adultery were stoned to death and the marriage age was lowered to nine years old. According to Nafisi, in the twentieth century, there was little difference between her rights and the rights of women in Western democracies. (261) After though, women were considered to have half the worth of men. (262) Instead of progressing and gaining more rights, the generation after Nafisi had less rights than those of previous generations.
I wasn’t sure how “Pride & Prejudice” was going to be incorporated into the workshops, but after reading about the struggles of the students, I was able to understand a bit more. The setting of “Pride & Prejudice” takes place around the Victorian Era where marriage and social class was incredibly important. Women were less valuable than men and marrying because of true love was rare. Elizabeth has a suitor, which Mrs. Bennet urges her daughter to marry. Elizabeth refuses, not wanting to marry a man she does not love. Nafisi notes that although the younger generation has yet to experience the benefits of women’s rights from the past, the fact that it existed not too long ago pushes them to work harder for the future. However, the future could be to escape Iran in order to pursue one’s own dreams or it could be to stay and fight for change within the boundaries of the country. Nafisi and the girls struggled with these choices but as said in the epilogue, Nafisi and a few of her students immigrated to the west.
What I really liked in this section was how Nafisi and her students connected. They saw her as mentor and a friend, someone they truly respected. The reader can see how they ask her for advice on love, like how Nassrin confronted to having a boyfriend. The tone of this section seemed lighter and I loved how a literature workshop was able to impact so many of the women’s lives.


message 14: by Amalia (new)

Amalia Quesada | 8 comments Part four, “Austen”, the final installment of Reading Lolita in Tehran took a very distinct turn from the rest of the sections. Although it was intimate and difficult to read at times, it had to be one of my favorite sections because of these reasons; I liked that I was able to delve deeper into the true characters of Nafisi and her students. Nafisi claims that “every great book we read became a challenge to the ruling ideology…Nowhere was this challenge more apparent than in the case of Jane Austen.” Jane Austen provides Nafisi and her students with a chance to talk about a topic that is traditionally forbidden to speak of, but at the same time always on their minds: marriage and the individual freedom of women. Austen writes about similar lessons about literature that Nafisi wishes to teach her students.
I remember one part of the chapter particularly disturbed me. Nafisi wrote: “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a Muslim man, regardless of his fortune, must be in want of a nine-year-old virgin wife.” Weaved into the diction of this story is a reflection of all the limits placed on women in Persia at the time undert the Family Protection Law that was declined at the beginning of the revolution. The popular topic of marriage in Pride and Prejudice provides an opportunity for the students to reflect on their lives and time period they live in, and gain a new perspective from it. This was an example of Nafisi’s teachings and beliefs that reading allows for readers to find a space to reflect and experience a part of their life they did not know of before. Eventually, I have seen the students grow and develop this sense of life and reality in their readings than they ever did in their restricted everyday lives.
There is a clear parallel to life during the Islamic Republic from Nafisi’s teachings and readings throughout the book. Nafisi stresses the importance of ideology within the individual; let the imagination run free, and come to terms with the self. She believes that the space classic novels provide for imagination to live in and to challenge morals and customs are a powerful and valid reason to continue reading and teaching them, as well as the lessons readers can take away from them.


message 15: by Catherine (new)

Catherine Poirier | 8 comments Prince wrote: " Another issue brought about frequently was the issue of the mental image of Iran. In fact, Nafisi points out the distinction between the “one of words and the one of reality.” i>

I couldn’t help but notice that when I was reading this part of Prince’s comment, it reminded me of Moaveni towards the end of Lipstick Jihad. Moaveni felt similarly about Iran, the country was different than the one people talk about. Living in Iran gives someone an experience that those who only talk about nostalgically do not see. In reality, the Islamic republic is an oppressive regime that forces everyone to one single point of view that cannot be questioned.
Nafisi’s harsh statement “Living in the Islamic republic is like having sex with a man you loathe.” Made me question as to why she included this in the final part of her book (329). While I do understand where she is coming from, upon elaboration and analysis of what she said, the provocative nature of her claim strayed from her typical writing style, which has not been as abrupt and short sided as that statement was.

Aside from the break in diction, I believe that Nafisi means thatiran forces people to participate in things they do not want to do. If people are forced to do something, they lose interest and begin to rebel, that is simply the way humans work. Even those who respected the veil and wear it as a commitment to God like Mahshid did prior to the revolution do not view it the same way anymore. The act has lost its true religious meaning and has become an oppressive symbol of the regime.

Among the veil, women in Iran face other issues of inequality with marriage, divorce, and family laws. A key issue for women in Nafisi’s group was to weigh the options of fleeing west for better opportunity or stay in Iran and put up the fight. The daily struggle would certainly be more difficult than the other option, essentially running away from their problems.

Different from previous sections, Nafisi does not make any direct connections between Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and the world around them. However, there is a common theme identifiable between the two at this point. In both Pride and Prejudice and the book club, women are faced with a choice as to whether they will “risk ostracism and poverty to gain love and companionship and to embrace that elusive goal at the heart of democracy: the right to choose” (307). Nafisi observes that these women in Austen’s novels, and the book club are the “rebels” who say no to their parents, tradition, and society, and follow their own passions (307).



message 16: by James (new)

James Hickey | 4 comments Prince wrote: "In part 4 of this novel one particular excerpt jumped out at me because of its focus on the subjugation of women and the lack of political freedom for women in Tehran. By now, the author has made i..."
I like Prince's point about how Iran not only forced the veil on women but through that and the other restrictive laws that imprison the minds of Iranians. It is not just the women who feel the negative affects of these laws, but the whole country. The numerous anecdotes in this section point to me the amount of time being wasted trying to crack down on the citizens and mainly the women of Iran. I found it interesting that there was less of an emphasis on connecting to Pride and Prejudice as there was with the three previous books instead focusing more on the women in the group. The veil is still at the center of the problems for the women and overshadows all of the other sexist restrictions forced upon them.


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