Book Review: Reading Lolita in Tehran

Reading Lolita in Tehran

Reading Lolita in Tehran (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Oh goodness, it feels like it’s been forever since I’ve last blogged! This summer seems to be flying by, but I’m looking forward to the fun that’s in store this month.

As for meeting my reading goals, I’ve been trying to pick up the pace. Fortunately, that was easy with this past read since it was so enjoyable.

I’m always interested in reading outside my comfort zone and learning about different cultures, so thanks to a recommendation by one of my loyal followers, I’ve finished Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi.

This 2003 bestseller is Nafisi’s memoir about her experiences as a literature professor secretly teaching a group of seven girls in revolutionary Iran. Every week for two years, she opened her own home so that passionate women could speak their minds and dress how they wished without facing the morality police.

In this regime, Western literature faces outright banning or heavy censorship for its allegedly immoral and decadent themes, so educating students about Nabokov or Fitzgerald is a huge risk–especially when your students are all young females without male supervision.

First, I should mention that the structure of this memoir is unique. Nafisi does not narrate her life chronologically, but rather separates her recollections in four sections titled, “Lolita,” “Gatsby,” “James,” and “Austen,” which are based on the authors or characters that best reflected that respective time in her life.

Some readers have complained that they were expecting a tale about an Islamic book club of sorts, but there’s so much more to this story. To ask merely for Iranian chick-lit is a waste of this author’s writing prowess.

Have you ever searched for one-star reviews of a book you loved, just because you were curious to know why others thought differently? Well, after reading quite a few diatribes, I couldn’t believe that anyone could declare Nafisi boring and pretentious. Gosh forbid a woman get an education and share her knowledge with the world!

While many may not appreciate Nafisi’s musings outside of her illicit class, she is certainly an academic at heart, and as a lover of literature myself, I appreciated how she related the political changes in Iran to the novels she critiqued.

Yes, I do believe that there’s a slight barrier of entry to enjoying this story. If you have never familiarized yourself with Lolita, The Great Gatsby, Daisy Miller, or Pride and Prejudice, you might feel a bit disconnected, since these novels play dominant roles in Nafisi’s life.

However, I’ve only personally read Gatsby, and although I admit that that section was my favorite, it doesn’t mean that I didn’t enjoy the other three parts. In fact, I applaud the author for discussing literature with such fervor, because she encouraged me to experience these masterpieces for myself!

Not only is Nafisi’s passion for the written word contagious, her own prose is equally poetic. She manages to reflect on some very painful memories and analyze various sociopolitical ideologies with finesse.

She’s also self-aware enough to not present either a condemnation of or support for the Iranian government. The issues present are much more complicated than American vs. Iranian, Christian vs. Muslim, or democratic vs. totalitarian. And as much as I can’t stomach such glaring gender inequality, I appreciate Nafisi to offer a nuanced perspective of her country’s culture and history.

Needless to say, you’re going to learn a lot if you read this book. And unless you’re among those ridiculous one-star reviewers, I’d fathom a guess that you like learning…and thus, would like this story.

As for me, now that I’ve stimulated my mind, it’s time to stimulate my other senses…next up? You guessed it! A sexy fun romance novel!

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6 thoughts on “Book Review: Reading Lolita in Tehran

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