Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books

Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books

by Azar Nafisi

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We all have dreams—things we fantasize about doing and generally never get around to. This is the story of Azar Nafisi’s dream and of the nightmare that made it come true.
For two years before she left Iran in 1997, Nafisi gathered seven young women at her house every Thursday morning to read and discuss forbidden works of Western literature. They were all former students whom she had taught at university. Some came from conservative and religious families, others were progressive and secular; several had spent time in jail. They were shy and uncomfortable at first, unaccustomed to being asked to speak their minds, but soon they began to open up and to speak more freely, not only about the novels they were reading but also about themselves, their dreams and disappointments. Their stories intertwined with those they were reading—Pride and Prejudice, Washington Square, Daisy Miller and Lolita—their Lolita, as they imagined her in Tehran.
Nafisi’s account flashes back to the early days of the revolution, when she first started teaching at the University of Tehran amid the swirl of protests and demonstrations. In those frenetic days, the students took control of the university, expelled faculty members and purged the curriculum. When a radical Islamist in Nafisi’s class questioned her decision to teach The Great Gatsby, which he saw as an immoral work that preached falsehoods of “the Great Satan,” she decided to let him put Gatsby on trial and stood as the sole witness for the defense.
Azar Nafisi’s luminous tale offers a fascinating portrait of the Iran-Iraq war viewed from Tehran and gives us a rare glimpse, from theinside, of women’s lives in revolutionary Iran. It is a work of great passion and poetic beauty, written with a startlingly original voice.

Author Biography:

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781613838488
Publisher: Perfection Learning Corporation
Publication date: 12/30/2003
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Azar Nafisi is a professor at Johns Hopkins University. She won a fellowship from Oxford and taught English literature at the University of Tehran, the Free Islamic University and Allameh Tabatabai University in Iran. She was expelled from the University of Tehran for refusing to wear the veil and left Iran for America in 1997. She has written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal and The New Republic, and is the author of Anti-Terra: A Critical Study of Vladimir Nabokov's Novels. She lives in Washington, D.C., with her husband and two children.


Potomac, Maryland

Place of Birth:

Tehran, Iran


M.A., Ph.D., Oklahoma University, 1979

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

In the fall of 1995, after resigning from my last academic post, I decided to indulge myself and fulfill a dream. I chose seven of my best and most committed students and invited them to come to my home every Thursday morning to discuss literature. They were all women-to teach a mixed class in the privacy of my home was too risky, even if we were discussing harmless works of fiction. One persistent male student, although barred from our class, insisted on his rights. So he, Nima, read the assigned material, and on special days he would come to my house to talk about the books we were reading.

I often teasingly reminded my students of Muriel Spark's The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and asked, Which one of you will finally betray me? For I am a pessimist by nature and I was sure at least one would turn against me. Nassrin once responded mischievously, You yourself told us that in the final analysis we are our own betrayers, playing Judas to our own Christ. Manna pointed out that I was no Miss Brodie, and they, well, they were what they were. She reminded me of a warning I was fond of repeating: do not, under any circumstances, belittle a work of fiction by trying to turn it into a carbon copy of real life; what we search for in fiction is not so much reality but the epiphany of truth. Yet I suppose that if I were to go against my own recommendation and choose a work of fiction that would most resonate with our lives in the Islamic Republic of Iran, it would not be The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie or even 1984 but perhaps Nabokov's Invitation to a Beheading or better yet, Lolita.

A couple of years after we had begun our Thursday-morning seminars, on the last night I was in Tehran, a few friends and students came to say good-bye and to help me pack. When we had deprived the house of all its items, when the objects had vanished and the colors had faded into eight gray suitcases, like errant genies evaporating into their bottles, my students and I stood against the bare white wall of the dining room and took two photographs.

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 head scarves, 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 coverings. Splashes of color separate one from the next. Each has become distinct through the color and style of her clothes, the color and the length of her hair; not even the two who are still wearing their head scarves look the same.

The one to the far right in the second photograph is our poet, Manna, in a white T-shirt and jeans. She made poetry out of things most people cast aside. The photograph does not reflect the peculiar opacity of Manna's dark eyes, a testament to her withdrawn and private nature.

Next to Manna is Mahshid, whose long black scarf clashes with her delicate features and retreating smile. Mahshid was good at many things, but she had a certain daintiness about her and we took to calling her "my lady." Nassrin used to say that more than defining Mahshid, we had managed to add another dimension to the word lady. Mahshid is very sensitive. She's like porcelain, Yassi once told me, easy to crack. That's why she appears fragile to those who don't know her too well; but woe to whoever offends her. As for me, Yassi continued good-naturedly, I'm like good old plastic; I won't crack no matter what you do with me.

Yassi was the youngest in our group. She is the one in yellow, bending forward and bursting with laughter. We used to teasingly call her our comedian. Yassi was shy by nature, but certain things excited her and made her lose her inhibitions. She had a tone of voice that gently mocked and questioned not just others but herself as well.

I am the one in brown, standing next to Yassi, with one arm around her shoulders. Directly behind me stands Azin, my tallest student, with her long blond hair and a pink T-shirt. She is laughing like the rest of us. Azin's smiles never looked like smiles; they appeared more like preludes to an irrepressible and nervous hilarity. She beamed in that peculiar fashion even when she was describing her latest trouble with her husband. Always outrageous and outspoken, Azin relished the shock value of her actions and comments, and often clashed with Mahshid and Manna. We nicknamed her the wild one.

On my other side is Mitra, who was perhaps the calmest among us. Like the pastel colors of her paintings, she seemed to recede and fade into a paler register. Her beauty was saved from predictability by a pair of miraculous dimples, which she could and did use to manipulate many an unsuspecting victim into bending to her will.

Sanaz, who, pressured by family and society, vacillated between her desire for independence and her need for approval, is holding on to Mitra's arm. We are all laughing. And Nima, Manna's husband and my one true literary critic-if only he had had the perseverance to finish the brilliant essays he started to write-is our invisible partner, the photographer.

There was one more: Nassrin. She is not in the photographs-she didn't make it to the end. Yet my tale would be incomplete without those who could not or did not remain with us. Their absences persist, like an acute pain that seems to have no physical source. This is Tehran for me: its absences were more real than its presences.

When I see Nassrin in my mind's eye, she's slightly out of focus, blurred, somehow distant. I've combed through the photographs my students took with me over the years and Nassrin is in many of them, but always hidden behind something-a person, a tree. In one, I am standing with eight of my students in the small garden facing our faculty building, the scene of so many farewell photographs over the years. In the background stands a sheltering willow tree. We are laughing, and in one corner, from behind the tallest student, Nassrin peers out, like an imp intruding roguishly on a scene it was not invited to. In another I can barely make out her face in the small V space behind two other girls' shoulders. In this one she looks absentminded; she is frowning, as if unaware that she is being photographed.

How can I describe Nassrin? I once called her the Cheshire cat, appearing and disappearing at unexpected turns in my academic life. The truth is I can't describe her: she was her own definition. One can only say that Nassrin was Nassrin.

For nearly two years, almost every Thursday morning, rain or shine, they came to my house, and almost every time, I could not get over the shock of seeing them shed their mandatory veils and robes and burst into color. When my students came into that room, they took off more than their scarves and robes. Gradually, each one gained an outline and a shape, becoming her own inimitable self. Our world in that living room with its window framing my beloved Elburz Mountains became our sanctuary, our self-contained universe, mocking the reality of black-scarved, timid faces in the city that sprawled below.

The theme of the class was the relation between fiction and reality. We read Persian classical literature, such as the tales of our own lady of fiction, Scheherazade, from A Thousand and One Nights, along with Western classics-Pride and Prejudice, Madame Bovary, Daisy Miller, The Dean's December and, yes, Lolita. As I write the title of each book, memories whirl in with the wind to disturb the quiet of this fall day in another room in another country.

Here and now in that other world that cropped up so many times in our discussions, I sit and reimagine myself and my students, my girls as I came to call them, reading Lolita in a deceptively sunny room in Tehran. But to steal the words from Humbert, the poet/criminal of Lolita, I need you, the reader, to imagine us, for we won't really exist if you don't. Against the tyranny of time and politics, imagine us the way we sometimes didn't dare to imagine ourselves: in our most private and secret moments, in the most extraordinarily ordinary instances of life, listening to music, falling in love, walking down the shady streets or reading Lolita in Tehran. And then imagine us again with all this confiscated, driven underground, taken away from us.

If I write about Nabokov today, it is to celebrate our reading of Nabokov in Tehran, against all odds. Of all his novels I choose the one I taught last, and the one that is connected to so many memories. It is of Lolita that I want to write, but right now there is no way I can write about that novel without also writing about Tehran. This, then, is the story of Lolita in Tehran, how Lolita gave a different color to Tehran and how Tehran helped redefine Nabokov's novel, turning it into this Lolita, our Lolita.


And so it happened that one Thursday in early September we gathered in my living room for our first meeting. Here they come, one more time. First I hear the bell, a pause, and the closing of the street door. Then I hear footsteps coming up the winding staircase and past my mother's apartment. As I move towards the front door, I register a piece of sky through the side window. Each girl, as soon as she reaches the door, takes off her robe and scarf, sometimes shaking her head from side to side. She pauses before entering the room. Only there is no room, just the teasing void of memory.

More than any other place in our home, the living room was symbolic of my nomadic and borrowed life. Vagrant pieces of furniture from different times and places were thrown together, partly out of financial necessity, and partly because of my eclectic taste. Oddly, these incongruous ingredients created a symmetry that the other, more deliberately furnished rooms in the apartment lacked.

My mother would go crazy each time she saw the paintings leaning against the wall and the vases of flowers on the floor and the curtainless windows, which I refused to dress until I was finally reminded that this was an Islamic country and windows needed to be dressed. I don't know if you really belong to me, she would lament. Didn't I raise you to be orderly and organized? Her tone was serious, but she had repeated the same complaint for so many years that by now it was an almost tender ritual. Azi-that was my nickname-Azi, she would say, you are a grown-up lady now; act like one. Yet there was something in her tone that kept me young and fragile and obstinate, and still, when in memory I hear her voice, I know I never lived up to her expectations. I never did become the lady she tried to will me into being.

That room, which I never paid much attention to at that time, has gained a different status in my mind's eye now that it has become the precious object of memory. It was a spacious room, sparsely furnished and decorated. At one corner was the fireplace, a fanciful creation of my husband, Bijan. There was a love seat against one wall, over which I had thrown a lace cover, my mother's gift from long ago. A pale peach couch faced the window, accompanied by two matching chairs and a big square glass-topped iron table.

My place was always in the chair with its back to the window, which opened onto a wide cul-de-sac called Azar. Opposite the window was the former American Hospital, once small and exclusive, now a noisy, overcrowded medical facility for wounded and disabled veterans of the war. On "weekends"-Thursdays and Fridays in Iran- the small street was crowded with hospital visitors who came as if for a picnic, with sandwiches and children. The neighbor's front yard, his pride and joy, was the main victim of their assaults, especially in summer, when they helped themselves to his beloved roses. We could hear the sound of children shouting, crying and laughing, and, mingled in, their mothers' voices, also shouting, calling out their children's names and threatening them with punishments. Sometimes a child or two would ring our doorbell and run away, repeating their perilous exercise at intervals.

From our second-story apartment-my mother occupied the first floor, and my brother's apartment, on the third floor, was often empty, since he had left for England-we could see the upper branches of a generous tree and, in the distance, over the buildings, the Elburz Mountains. The street, the hospital and its visitors were censored out of sight. We felt their presence only through the disembodied noises emanating from below.

I could not see my favorite mountains from where I sat, but opposite my chair, on the far wall of the dining room, was an antique oval mirror, a gift from my father, and in its reflection, I could see the mountains capped with snow, even in summer, and watch the trees change color. That censored view intensified my impression that the noise came not from the street below but from some far-off place, a place whose persistent hum was our only link to the world we refused, for those few hours, to acknowledge.

That room, for all of us, became a place of transgression. What a wonderland it was! Sitting around the large coffee table covered with bouquets of flowers, we moved in and out of the novels we read. Looking back, I am amazed at how much we learned without even noticing it. We were, to borrow from Nabokov, to experience how the ordinary pebble of ordinary life could be transformed into a jewel through the magic eye of fiction.

Reading Group Guide

We all have dreams—things we fantasize about doing and generally never get around to. This is the story of Azar Nafisi’s dream and of the nightmare that made it come true.

For two years before she left Iran in 1997, Nafisi gathered seven young women at her house every Thursday morning to read and discuss forbidden works of Western literature. They were all former students whom she had taught at university. Some came from conservative and religious families, others were progressive and secular; several had spent time in jail. They were shy and uncomfortable at first, unaccustomed to being asked to speak their minds, but soon they began to open up and to speak more freely, not only about the novels they were reading but also about themselves, their dreams and disappointments. Their stories intertwined with those they were reading—Pride and Prejudice, Washington Square, Daisy Miller and Lolita—their Lolita, as they imagined her in Tehran.

Nafisi’s account flashes back to the early days of the revolution, when she first started teaching at the University of Tehran amid the swirl of protests and demonstrations. In those frenetic days, the students took control of the university, expelled faculty members and purged the curriculum. When a radical Islamist in Nafisi’s class questioned her decision to teach The Great Gatsby, which he saw as an immoral work that preached falsehoods of “the Great Satan,” she decided to let him put Gatsby on trial and stood as the sole witness for the defense.

Azar Nafisi’s luminous tale offers a fascinating portrait of the Iran-Iraq war viewed from Tehran and gives us a rare glimpse, fromthe inside, of women’s lives in revolutionary Iran. It is a work of great passion and poetic beauty, written with a startlingly original voice.


1. On her first day teaching at the University of Tehran, Azar Nafisi began class with some questions: “What should fiction accomplish? Why should anyone read at all?” What are your answers to these questions? How does fiction force us to question what we often take for granted?

2. Yassi adores playing with words, particularly with Nabokov’s fanciful linguistic creation upsilamba (18). What does the word upsilamba mean to you?

3. In what ways had Ayatollah Khomeini “turned himself into a myth” for the people of Iran (246)? Discuss the recurrent theme of complicity in the book: the idea that the Ayatollah, the stern philosopher-king who limited freedoms and terrorized the innocent, “did to us what we allowed him to do” (28). To what extent are the supporters of a revolution responsible for its unintended results?

4. Compare attitudes toward the veil held by men, women and the government in the Islamic Republic of Iran. How was Nafisi’s grandmother’s choice to wear the chador marred by the political significance it had gained (192)? Also, describe Mahshid’s conflicted feelings as a Muslim who already observed the veil but who nevertheless objected to its political enforcement.

5. In discussing the frame story of the murderous king in A Thousand and One Nights, Nafisi mentions three types of women who fell victim to his unreasonable rule (19). What is the relevance of this story for the women in Nafisi’s private class?

6. Explain what Nafisi means when she calls herself and her beliefsincreasingly “irrelevant” in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Compare her way of dealing with this irrelevance to the self-imposed exile of the man she calls her “magician.” What can people who “lose their place in the world” do to survive, both physically and creatively?

7. During the Gatsby trial, Zarrin charges Mr. Nyazi with the inability to “distinguish fiction from reality” (128). How does Mr. Nyazi’s conflation of the fictional and the real compare to the actions of the blind censor, who retains the authority to suppress performances when he cannot even see? Discuss the role of censorship in both authoritarian and democratic governments. Can you think of instances in the United States when art was censored for its “dangerous” impact upon society?

8. Nafisi writes: “It was not until I had reached home that I realized the true meaning of exile” (145). How do her conceptions of home conflict with those of her husband, Bijan, who is reluctant to leave Tehran? Also, compare Mahshid’s feeling that she “owes” something to Tehran to Mitra’s and Nassrin’s desires for freedom and escape. Discuss how the changing and often discordant influences of memory, family, safety, freedom, opportunity and duty define our sense of home and belonging.

9. Fanatics like Mr. Ghomi, Mr. Nyazi and Mr. Bahri consistently surprised Nafisi by displaying absolute hatred for Western literature—a reaction she describes as a “venom uncalled for in relation to works of fiction” (195). What are their motivations? Do you, like Nafisi, think that people like Mr. Ghomi attack because they are afraid of what they don’t understand? Why is ambiguity such a dangerous weapon to them?

10. The confiscation of one’s life by another is the root of Humbert’s sin in Lolita. Discuss how Khomeini likewise acted as a “solipsizer,” robbing individuals of their identities to promote total allegiance. What does Nafisi mean when she says that Sanaz, Nassrin, Azin and the rest of her girls are part of a “generation with no past” (76)?

11. Nafisi teaches that the novel is a sensual experience of another world, that it appeals to the reader’s capacity for compassion. Do you agree that “empathy is at the heart of the novel”? How has this book affected your understanding of the impact of the novel?

12. Nafisi’s account of life in the Islamic Republic transcends national and geographical boundaries. Discuss how the experience of censorship, fundamentalism and human rights, as well as the enjoyment of works of imagination and the desire for individual freedoms, may be similar in totalitarian societies and in democracies such as ours.

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Reading Lolita in Tehran 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 226 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
People have complained about this book for numerous reasons, for everything from Nafisi being a propagandist for the Bush administration to it being too 'boring' for focusing on literary criticism in detail when it should just be a narrative memoir. First of all, this book is a book written by a woman who is passionate about books - in essence, a book about books. Nafisi was a literary professor at a university in Tehran before her expulsion during the ascent of the regime/revolution. Her sobering, first-hand experiences living during the Regime in Iran, coupled with her unquenchable penchant for literature, drove her to write this memoir, and the result is a triumphant weaving of the two - current events in the Middle East and timeless Western literature playing off each other as described by an Iranian woman passionate about freedom, women's rights and¿Western literature. This is hardly propaganda. What it is is a memoir about literature and the powerful joy it brings, even in tumultuous times in the Middle East during bombing raids and wearing the veil mandatorily, and a consequent first-hand look into the lifestyle in such a predicament by an author who, while candid and completely honest in her condemnation of the totalitarian regime she was subjected to, does not once act bitter or caustic about her ordeals, or write about her impressions in a way that is at all manipulative or self-righteous. Any 'human' emotions or a opinions Nafisi does express simply reflect the fact that this is, after all, a memoir - a personal account of things that could be written in otherwise impersonal works (i.e. current events books and literary anthologies). 'Reading Lolita In Tehran' gives us an insight into both famous books and modern politics/history, but through the less-formal account of a woman who, although isn't treating it formally, knows an awful darn lot about both. And she happens to be a really interesting person and a really good writer.
Viejo More than 1 year ago
This book is beautifully written in the intimacy of Azar Nafisi's literary book club. The club is composed by seven Muslim women that just like Nafisi, open their heart and invite the reader to take a step into their life in the Islamic world. Each week they come into Nafisi's house unveiling their faces and freeing themselves from the restrictions of their society by reading and discussing tabooed subjects. In a sense, they find an escape to their real life problems in the fictitious plots of literary classics. It invites women of all ages around the world, to seek comfort for their own problems by submerging themselves in epic novels while standing up for their rights. This memoir is an example of how literature can help us heal the wound of our past and how important it is to defend freedom of expression. As a high school student, I consider this novel to be a great educational treasure. Not only does it create conscience on the empowerment of women and invites us to believe in gender equality, but it also teaches us about the different cultures and political issues in today's world. At the very same time it is also a book promoting Western literature that introduces us to the stories of each woman by relating it to the plot of classical novels such as The Great Gatsby, Pride & Prejudice and Lolita. As one reads the novel, you become acquainted with each member of the group and have access to their most intimate but important feelings and opinions. I consider that this novel can change the perspective some men have about women, and encourage them to see them as equal. Nafisi is a woman to be admired. This book comes from her true life personal experiences in the battle towards spreading her love for knowledge in a restricted world. Reading Lolita in Tehran will touch the emotions of any reader, it will make us cry, laugh, but above all mostly think. For anyone interested in Literature, Politics, Anthropology or that has ever been a book club member it is a must read. In my personal experience, the book opened my eyes towards life for women in the Islamic world. Although sometimes I found their experiences to have been heart breaking and intolerable, they also made me respect them much more than I did. I got to know the woman behind the Hijaab (Muslim veil), her culture and her life. The only recommendation I would give off when it comes to Reading Lolita in Tehran is that if you have read The Great Gatsby, Pride & Prejudice and Lolita it will be easier for you to understand the full context of the plot. The author constantly related the plots of these books to the experiences of the book club members. However, it is not something necessary. I had not read any of these books except for Pride and Prejudice and really enjoyed the book. Except that at times I wished I knew Lolita by heart to feel as if I understood each and every detail of the book.
Baomei More than 1 year ago
A revelation of a revolution that promised a country the keys to heaven but gave its people the evils of hell instead. Nafisi tells her story eloquently on how she survived the upheavals of the revolution. Using her imaginative mind for fiction and her passion for literature, she brought a degree of comfort to the hearts of her students in the face of tyranny. Reading this book was a heartfelt experience of compassion and new found empathy for victims of an oppressive government.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The author has a fascinating story to tell--that of life during the Islarmic Revolution in Iran. The problem is that the editor allowed the author to spend an inordinate amount of time discussing her favorite fiction books and authors. The interesting non-fiction aspects of her life were relegated to second place status in the book. I found this disappointing book to be a slow and boring read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Nafisi got me right into the culture and minds and hearts of Iran and the women who live there. For the first time I have true understanding and empathy for their lives. You need to delve deeply to get there, and we owe it to the women all over to the world to do just that. Give it a few chapters and you'll be engrossed!
Guest More than 1 year ago
One of the most brilliant studies of another culture I've ever read. Absolutely captivating account of how powerful words and books are and how (this is only implied, not at all discussed) we Americans take our liberties for granted. Amazing for its lucid, passionate writing and the breadth of Iranian culture it captures. My other favorite memoir of 2003 was 'I Sleep At Red Lights: a True Story of Life After Triplets,' by Bruce Stockler, a warm, funny, revealing look at what it means to be a man and the joys of fatherhood.
Lifeandtime More than 1 year ago
I found this book a compelling and easy to read memoir of the war years in Tehran in which the oppression of women occurred. Previously, I was annoyed at women who chose to wear the veil and chador and felt sorry for those who lived in countries where it was necessary. After reading Dr. Nafisi's memoir of those turbulent and traumatic years in Iran, I gained a stronger understanding of the life women were forced to lead there. But more than that, Dr. Nafisi helped me see them as people whom I would be proud to know. I found this book to be gripping in a way that I was unable to put it down. The memoir is written around Dr. Nafisi's teaching of English literature in universities there and her comments on various English novels are used to help the reader understand certain universal truths. The book will definitely allow the reader to see Lolita in a new light.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I found this book beautifully written and lyrical. Given our current times, it was incredibly thought provoking. Dr. Nafsi sheds light on issues that many Westerners cannot comprehend. As a lover of literature (Nabokov, James and Fitzgerald serve as a backdrop for different chapters), I found this book incredibly creative and moving.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a very insightful book that inspires mindfulness. I recommend it to every westerner to read and understand their own potential and that of a people who are rarely heard from. The people whose talents, passions, and ambitions are frustrated and thwarted under the veil of Islamic oppression.
freelancer_frank on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a book about the female experience in a state of explicit oppression. It argues forcefully that the Iranian Islamic Republic was/is not just oppressive but is particularly oppressive, to the point of mania, against women. There are vivid descriptions of pedagogical encounters with 'radicalised' students (mostly male) who attack the author's attempts to teach literature, and particularly the position of her female heroins. Nafisi's interlocutors use a brutal and simplistic rhetoric, the officially sanctioned 'State-Speak' and she counters them with her impassioned plea for a space for literature as an arena that allows us to empathise with others. It is rarely clear if her attackers are arguing out of fear, self-interest or true-belief but their motivations are generally less important than the manner in which they dehumanise themselves while pretending to preach to others. The drawback of Nafisi's approach is that, by siding with literature against the political she appears to remove herself from the political altogether. This can and has lead to attacks that accuse her of dubious or mislaid motives, and the lack of a firm position political position tended to weaken the overall work for me. It will, however, no doubt strengthen it for other readers. Nafisi's courage is clear and this is an important book for anyone who wants an insight into the nature of totalitarianism.
Kyniska on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
If you are familiar with classic Western literature, this book is enjoyable on two fronts. Aside from being a fascinating memoir of the author's life in post-revolution Iran, it also tells the story of the lives of her students through the lens of their dedication to literature. The separation of parts according to the novel the group is studying and the parallels of that novel to the experiences the author recounts is very well done. Not exactly mesmerizing, but a good read for the book lover and the mind.
mnlohman on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Good historical and political perspective of the 60s through 90s, but weak story.
karensaville on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The style of writing made me feel like I was sitting in on a university lecture and after a couple of chapters it started to really irritate. I enjoyed learning about certain aspects of life in Iran but would have preferred a straight biography. I liked the concept of the book but for me it didn't quite work.
jayne_charles on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is part literary critique, part memoir about life in modern day Iran. The author is a professor (as opposed to a novelist) and as such much of the literary bit went some way over my head, even though I have read and enjoyed most of the books concerned. (Beware of spoilers!) The story of the book group was fascinating, if a little difficult to follow with time switches and characters popping in and out of the narrative, and provided a rare insight into life under a totalitarian regime. Some of the events were so shocking that it was with a jolt that I remembered I was reading fact not fiction.
Lila_Gustavus on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
How much do most people in the Western world know about the difficult lives of people in Iran? Personally, I think not that much. Our knowledge is based on preconceived notions and news reports flooding our brains on a daily basis. Being separated by thousands of miles and an abyss between our culture and theirs, it is quite difficult to truly grasp the trials and tribulations of ordinary men, women and children living in Iran. In my opinion, the most credible source of information regarding any experience is a personal account. That's why Reading Lolita In Tehran is such an important book.Azar Nafisi returned to her beloved country of Iran after spending several years, including attending college, in the United States. When she left Tehran, it was a modern, democratic city with happy, intelligent people, with women sharing equal rights with men and all enjoying their country and their freedom of religion. Years later she came back to Iran she didn't recognize but still had no idea what would really become of it. Reading Lolita In Tehran is Nafisi's memoir, depicting the seventeen years of living under the fundamentalist regime of the Islamic Republic of Iran. She is a brave and very bold university teacher, who first gets expelled from University of Tehran and then resigns from another university before they get a chance to expel her. Instead, she creates a regular meeting at her own house where seven former female students of her meet weekly to discuss one of the greatest writers in the literary world. In between the accounts of every meeting, Azar describes Iran's quick descent into tyranny, where women are refused any rights, jailed and put to death of the smallest offenses and all the intelligentsia, every academic that refuses to submit to censorship and regime is quieted or eradicated.Reading Lolita In Tehran is not an easy read. Nor should it be such. You cannot write down in any easy terms memories and experiences that defined these women and became their everyday terrors. However, it is a beautiful book and well worth the time you'll spend reading it. It is written in a way that'll become personal to every person that reads it. For me, Azar Nafisi gave me the greatest gift a writer can give to a reader: a new appreciation for literature, which sadly and quite unconsciously I have started to take for granted. Austen, Nabokov, James, Gatsby, they become lifelines to these brave women. The books let them live through one thing the regime couldn't take away, their imagination, the window into another world that could have been their world too.Probably, the saddest part was the heartrending disillusionment with the country Ms. Nafisi once loved and the young girls desperately wanted to love. As the author mentions herself, the women of her generation and older at least had the past and the memories to cherish, while the generation of her students and their children was denied even that.Lastly but maybe the most importantly, Reading Lolita In Tehran brings to life the saying that "the pen is mightier than the sword". Both sides know it. The government is painfully aware of that, therefore the bookstores are closed down, the books are burned, the academia is being forced into discussing only the works that further the Islamist cause and those who don't comply lose their careers or even lives. The young women, students of Ms. Nafisi, know the power of a written word too. It saves their lives, gives them hope and keeps them floating on the surface, not drowning just yet.
Alvaro77 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book was about a group of educated Iranian women who get together to discuss banned Western literature. It was a hard read for me because my lack of knowledge about Iranian history. What was apparent, was the author's love for literature and her passion for understanding it. Overall, I enjoyed the book and probably learned a few things about Iran's past.
Coltime on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I picked up this book because I¿m very interested in Iran and accounts of life during the Islamic Revolution. I was worried that I wouldn¿t be able to get into this book because I really wasn¿t familiar with Austen or Nabokov, but after reading the first few chapters it really wasn¿t an issue. Central to Azar Nafisi¿s memoir is the secret all women¿s ( with one exception) book club that she forms after leaving her teaching position. The many books and authors that are discussed like Austen, Nabokov, James, Fitzgerald don¿t take over her memoir but enrich it greatly. Through the bookclub not only is Western Literature being examined but also Iranian society. The members of the book club bring their own personal experiences of what it means to be a woman in the Islamic Republic to the discussions. At the heart of this book are the women who tried to make a place for themselves inside Iran while being treated like outsiders in their own country . --- Highly Recommended
bookfest on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Azar Nafisi is an Iranian literary scholar who studied in the United States but returned to Tehran to teach. As the Islamic Revolution cracks down on personal freedoms, Nafisi struggles with the right to teach literature on its own basis rather than in Islamic terms. Eventually, she withdraws from the University and teaches a small group of women in her home. Through her personal struggles and theirs, and through the lens of great literature, she reveals the impact of the political and religious battles on the lives of individuals, particularly women, and on the culture as a whole.It was interesting to read this immediately after reading Persepolis, a child's perspective on the same oppressive theocracy.
OEBooks on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Wow. Wasn't sure whether I was reading a great work of literature or an obscure repartee on ideals. Quite a few things brought on this feeling. First there was the Author's Note. Normally I don't read them. But this one was brief... so I did, which between reminding myself of the caption "a memoir in books" and weighing in the fact that "...aspects of characters and events in this story have been changed..." (& understandably so) it did little to help separate the ambiguity between events and perspectives... especially since on top of all things, Nafisi teaches literature. But I took on the challenge, and enjoyed it. Irony after irony. It really was beautiful... tell-tale... such as the glimmering irony in the Reading of Lolita...particularly noting where Humbert `is painted' as being both narrator and seducer... of not just Lolita, but also of his readers. I kind of felt the same way about Nafisi. Without going too deep into the revolution of ideals and basic human rights which much of this book encompasses... and I believe in... but regardless of an individual's viewpoint, whether left or right... liberal or conservative, you must seduce to get others to see your point of view. Perception can be a tricky monster... ...for instance, another question I had (initially) was what possibly `could' Nafisi teach about literature (of all subjects), in Tehran? I got my answer. Yet the very reason I had the question to begin with was because of the way I was seduced by the stories of oppression. These questions/ironies alone makes Reading Lolita in Tehran not only engaging, but projects what Nafisi strived to accomplish all along... to revive and keep alive literature!
ilovemycat1 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
It took a few months for me to finish this book, mainly because of my work schedule, but I always enjoyed reading it. Earlier this year, after the latest Iranian elections, the news in the U.S. was filled with reports of the riots in Iran, not by the foreign press, who were either expelled or not allowed in, but by secret cell phone video and pictures by young students, similar to those Nafisi befriended and described in her book. Although this book was published in 2004, I couldn't stop thinking of the young students and their secret study group, and how now a new generation of young people were out on the streets being stoned and killed for the simple acts of just wanting to be free.
mephit on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book is an account of living under Ayatollah Khomeini's regime under sharia law, told partly through discussions of literature.To read this book was, for me, slightly disorientating: for I felt like I was reading dystopian fiction, having a window into these women's lives under the regime. Yet it is autobiographical.I guess what hits hardest about the novel was that prior to Khomeini's accession, women were on a similarly liberated footing in Iran as in the West:"At the start of the 20th Century, the age of marriage in Iran - 9, according to sharia laws - was changed to 13 and then later to 18. My mother had chosen whom she wanted to marry and she had been one of the first six women elected to Parliament in 1963. When I was growing up, in the 1960s, there was little difference between my rights and the rights of women in Western democracies. But it was not the fashion then to think that our culture was not compatible with modern democracy, that there were Western and Islamic versions of democracy and human rights. We all wanted opportunities and freedom. That is why we supported revolutionary change - we were demanding more rights, not fewer.I married on the eve of revolution, a man I loved. [...] By the time my daughter was born five years later, the laws had regressed to what they had been before my grandmother's time: the first law to be repealed, months before the ratification of a new constitution, was the family-protection law, which guaranteed women's rights at home and at work. [...] My youthful years had witnessed the rise of two women to the rank of cabinet minister. After the revolution, these same two women were sentenced to death for the sins of warring with God and spreading prostitution. One of them [...] had been abroad at the time of the revolution and remained in exile. [...] The other, the minister of education and my former high school principal, was put in a sack and stoned or shot to death." (Reading Lolita in Tehran, Nafisi, p.261-262)With its atmosphere of surveillance, propaganda and morality squads, it felt like I was reading something along the lines of Margaret Atwood's A Handmaid's Tale, because it seems so alien. As you can probably tell, I didn't know much about Iran, (and indeed, still know passing little), but have been inspired to find out more.I liked the way that books are reference points, memoirs, to the book. Nafisi taught literature and her enthusiasm for the texts translates well, (to the point I have a new list of books I wish to read or re-read) while also throwing the repressiveness of the regime into sharp relief.
kafkatamura on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A book-lover's delight. As the book itself claims, a must-read for anyone who has been part of a book-club. It is a tad haphazard, even meandering at times, but, to Nafisi's credit, you never feel bored throughout this 300-odd page bestseller. Worth a try.
nicole_a_davis on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I had a hard time with this one--not as engrossing as I expected, given that it was a best-seller. Not being too familiar with Iran's history, Nafisi's perspective was fascinating, but at times confusing. Because the narrative isn't entirely chronological, I found it hard to remember where she was teaching, who her students were, and how and when she knew them, etc. as I was reading. If I were more familiar with the events that were happening, it might have been easier to follow. Those parts of the story dealing with the revolution (even though I was confused) were most interesting. The rest of the book was like reading lecture notes for a literature class. Sometimes interesting, but when she was discussing a book I've not read, it wasn't very intriguing.
dsandbrand on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I'm currently halfway through this book as I'm reading it for book club. I am enjoying the idea of this book, but the deconstruction of the classic literature isn't my cup of tea. I understand what Azar is trying to do in her book by comparing famous (and unread by me) works of literature to the lives in Iran, but those comparisons are too drawn out for my tastes. It is an interesting read regardless, but if it weren't for the fact I have to read it for book club, I wouldn't finish the book.
monicabrandywine on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I read this before I began blogging my reviews. I'm a huge fan of the memoir. I'm also a great fan of reading, obviously. :) This book is both, set in women's Iran. Excellent book for understanding modern Iranian women and the struggles they face. I would read this book again.