Reading "Lolita" in Tehran: A Story of Love, Books and Revolution

Azar Nafisi

Published by I.B.Tauris
ISBN 10: 1860649815 / ISBN 13: 9781860649813
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Synopsis: When Azar Nafisi was fired from Tehran University (where she was teaching English literature) because she refused to wear a veil, she gathered a group of her female students and resumed her classes at home, privately and discreetly. There, a group of young women discussed, argued about and communed with Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Henry James, Nabokov and others in the canon of English writers. The surreal picture of reading "Lolita", weighing the sexuality of Jane Austen or the American authenticity of Gatsby in the severe aftermath of Iran's Islamic Revolution was not lost on either Nafisi or her students. The young women themselves represented a range of types and as we meet each of these students we enter their lives, investigate their backgrounds and receive an interesting insight into life in contemporary Iran.

Review: An inspired blend of memoir and literary criticism, Reading Lolita in Tehran is a moving testament to the power of art and its ability to change and improve people's lives. In 1995, after resigning from her job as a professor at a university in Tehran due to repressive policies, Azar Nafisi invited seven of her best female students to attend a weekly study of great Western literature in her home. Since the books they read were officially banned by the government, the women were forced to meet in secret, often sharing photocopied pages of the illegal novels. For two years they met to talk, share, and "shed their mandatory veils and robes and burst into color." Though most of the women were shy and intimidated at first, they soon became emboldened by the forum and used the meetings as a springboard for debating the social, cultural, and political realities of living under strict Islamic rule. They discussed their harassment at the hands of "morality guards," the daily indignities of living under the Ayatollah Khomeini's regime, the effects of the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s, love, marriage, and life in general, giving readers a rare inside look at revolutionary Iran. The books were always the primary focus, however, and they became "essential to our lives: they were not a luxury but a necessity," she writes.

Threaded into the memoir are trenchant discussions of the work of Vladimir Nabokov, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Jane Austen, and other authors who provided the women with examples of those who successfully asserted their autonomy despite great odds. The great works encouraged them to strike out against authoritarianism and repression in their own ways, both large and small: "There, in that living room, we rediscovered that we were also living, breathing human beings; and no matter how repressive the state became, no matter how intimidated and frightened we were, like Lolita we tried to escape and to create our own little pockets of freedom," she writes. In short, the art helped them to survive. --Shawn Carkonen

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Title: Reading "Lolita" in Tehran: A Story of Love,...
Publisher: I.B.Tauris
Binding: Hardcover
Book Condition: VERY GOOD

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