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Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books

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Every Thursday morning for two years in the Islamic Republic of Iran, a bold and inspired teacher named Azar Nafisi secretly gathered seven of her most committed female students to read forbidden Western classics. As Islamic morality squads staged arbitrary raids in Tehran, fundamentalists seized hold of the universities, and a blind censor stifled artistic expression, the Every Thursday morning for two years in the Islamic Republic of Iran, a bold and inspired teacher named Azar Nafisi secretly gathered seven of her most committed female students to read forbidden Western classics. As Islamic morality squads staged arbitrary raids in Tehran, fundamentalists seized hold of the universities, and a blind censor stifled artistic expression, the girls in Azar Nafisi's living room risked removing their veils and immersed themselves in the worlds of Jane Austen, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Henry James, and Vladimir Nabokov. In this extraordinary memoir, their stories become intertwined with the ones they are reading. Reading Lolita in Tehran is a remarkable exploration of resilience in the face of tyranny and a celebration of the liberating power of literature.


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Every Thursday morning for two years in the Islamic Republic of Iran, a bold and inspired teacher named Azar Nafisi secretly gathered seven of her most committed female students to read forbidden Western classics. As Islamic morality squads staged arbitrary raids in Tehran, fundamentalists seized hold of the universities, and a blind censor stifled artistic expression, the Every Thursday morning for two years in the Islamic Republic of Iran, a bold and inspired teacher named Azar Nafisi secretly gathered seven of her most committed female students to read forbidden Western classics. As Islamic morality squads staged arbitrary raids in Tehran, fundamentalists seized hold of the universities, and a blind censor stifled artistic expression, the girls in Azar Nafisi's living room risked removing their veils and immersed themselves in the worlds of Jane Austen, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Henry James, and Vladimir Nabokov. In this extraordinary memoir, their stories become intertwined with the ones they are reading. Reading Lolita in Tehran is a remarkable exploration of resilience in the face of tyranny and a celebration of the liberating power of literature.

30 review for Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books

  1. 5 out of 5

    Siria

    This book failed for me on a number of levels. The premise of it sounded interesting to me--a glimpse at the lives of women and academics under the totalitarian regime in Iran, arranged around a series of bookclub meetings and analyses of various famous books. But for such a promising concept, and for a book which deals with so many serious and complex topics, it's facile and cliched. Almost alarmingly so, in fact. The tone was the biggest failing for me. It's smug and self-important. This book failed for me on a number of levels. The premise of it sounded interesting to me--a glimpse at the lives of women and academics under the totalitarian regime in Iran, arranged around a series of bookclub meetings and analyses of various famous books. But for such a promising concept, and for a book which deals with so many serious and complex topics, it's facile and cliched. Almost alarmingly so, in fact. The tone was the biggest failing for me. It's smug and self-important. For me, it was as if the author was making the same mistake as the Iranian ayatollahs: just as they confuse personal thoughts for political intent, so Nafisi seems to confuse the personal, therapeutic action of a private social event with something that automatically has major external political significance. Perhaps the story of these meetings--which were, undoubtedly, risky for all involved--would have had more impact if she had dug deeper into their meaning, their context, instead of settling for a relatively shallow assessment. Nafisi's analysis of the works of Nabokov, Austen, etc, was similarly shallow--it felt at times as if I were reading a poor collection of Cliff Notes. Especially in the case of Austen--how novel to point out that there is a satirical and sarcastic element to her work. On a more technical level, the structure of the work is confusing and disjointed. Many of the people who feature are indistinguishable from one another, and some of them--Nafisi's husband, her children, her parents--are conspicuous by how little they are mentioned. The style is lyrical, but empty and frustrating. Overall, enough to interest me enough to seek out other books on a similar topic, but not enough to make me return to it.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Emma

    I'm not sure I can finish this book. It's just so boring and self-important. And poorly written. My eyes keep crossing. It makes me angry because I think this COULD really be a good book. It has a good premise, a lot of potential, and it's about a topic I'm actually very interested in and would like to know more about. But instead it's dry as hell and doesn't follow any cohesive pattern--it just feels like a lot of random moments in the life of Azar Nafisi strung together by some run-of-the-mill I'm not sure I can finish this book. It's just so boring and self-important. And poorly written. My eyes keep crossing. It makes me angry because I think this COULD really be a good book. It has a good premise, a lot of potential, and it's about a topic I'm actually very interested in and would like to know more about. But instead it's dry as hell and doesn't follow any cohesive pattern--it just feels like a lot of random moments in the life of Azar Nafisi strung together by some run-of-the-mill literary criticism. And maybe worst of all, it doesn't make me feel any more empathetic to the Iranian people than I already did and it doesn't give me any additional insight into Islamic culture that I haven't already gotten from Western media sources. Why did this get such good reviews? Do people never read books and judge them for themselves? Or do they just say what they think they're supposed to say because they were told this is a terribly important book about a terribly important topic by a terribly important person? *sigh*

  3. 4 out of 5

    Ahmad Sharabiani

    Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books, Azar Nafisi Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books is a book by Iranian author and professor Azar Nafisi. Published in 2003, it was on the New York Times bestseller list for over one hundred weeks and has been translated into 32 languages. The book consists of a memoir of the author's experiences about returning to Iran during the revolution (1978–1981) and living under the Islamic Republic of Iran government until her departure in 1997. It Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books, Azar Nafisi Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books is a book by Iranian author and professor Azar Nafisi. Published in 2003, it was on the New York Times bestseller list for over one hundred weeks and has been translated into 32 languages. The book consists of a memoir of the author's experiences about returning to Iran during the revolution (1978–1981) and living under the Islamic Republic of Iran government until her departure in 1997. It narrates her teaching at the University of Tehran after 1979, her refusal to submit to the rule to wear the veil and her subsequent expulsion from the University, life during the Iran–Iraq War, her return to teaching at the University of Allameh Tabatabei (1981), her resignation (1987), the formation of her book club (1995–97), and her decision to emigrate. Events are interlaced with the stories of book club members consisting of seven of her female students who met weekly at Nafisi's house to discuss works of Western literature, including the controversial Lolita, and the texts are interpreted through the books they read. The book is divided into four sections: "Lolita", "Gatsby", "James", and "Austen". تاریخ نخستین خوانش: روز سی و یکم ماه می سال 2005 میلادی عنوان: لولیتا خوانی در تهران؛ در 347 ص، به زبان: انگلیسی؛ لندن، فورث استیت، 1383، شابک: 0007178484‬؛ کتاب «لولیتاخوانی» در تهران، چهار بخش است: نخست: «لولیتا (پرسوناژ رمان لولیتا اثر ولادیمیر نابوکوف)»؛ دوم: «گتسبی (پرسوناژ رمان گتسبی بزرگ اثر اسکات فیتزجرالد)»؛ سوم: «جیمز (هنری جیمز، نویسنده مشهور آمریکایی)»؛ چهارم: «آستن (جین آستن، نویسنده مشهور انگلیسی)».؛ موضوع اصلی کتاب، شرح و واگویی یادمانهای بانو «آذر نفیسی»، از روزهای «انقلاب فرهنگی» در ایران است؛ ایشان با تعطیلی کلاس درسش، با بازخوانی رمانهای مشهور، به دانشجویان پیشین خویش، خصوصی تدریس میکنند. ا. شربیانی

  4. 4 out of 5

    Annalisa

    I feel like I showed up for class without reading the required assignment. This book should come with a prerequisite reading list: Lolita, Invitation to a Beheading, The Great Gatsby, Daisy Miller, and Pride and Prejudice or at least a warning for spoilers: (view spoiler)[Lolita is raped by an older man, Gatsby dies, Daisy Miller doesn't get a happy ending, and Elizabeth Bennett does (hide spoiler)] . If I would have known Nafisi was going to delve into these literar I feel like I showed up for class without reading the required assignment. This book should come with a prerequisite reading list: Lolita, Invitation to a Beheading, The Great Gatsby, Daisy Miller, and Pride and Prejudice or at least a warning for spoilers: (view spoiler)[Lolita is raped by an older man, Gatsby dies, Daisy Miller doesn't get a happy ending, and Elizabeth Bennett does (hide spoiler)] . If I would have known Nafisi was going to delve into these literary pieces like she would one of her class discussions, I would have wanted to read them before hand. It would have been nice to have them in my mind to go through the symbolism with her instead of being lectured at. Reading this book, I pondered this question: can someone become too educated, too intellectual to write a good book? It becomes too analytic and not enough heart. This story about living through the Iranian tyranny of the last century could have been fascinating, but it becomes more about analyzing it to death than about the movement and people of the country. I mention this intellectual question because one of the underlying themes of the book is intellectual liberals vs religious conservatives. While I find the pursuit of education extremely important (and maybe I worship intellectualism too much), why is it always one or the other? Why does the spiritual lost in the educational realm? Can't we have both? Surprisingly enough, the story of Iran told from this very liberal anti-Revolutionist made me sympathize with these Muslim extremist more than any other media has done so far. Not that I agree with their methods (I full-heartedly agree that forcing morals on people makes them resent them, not embrace them), but I found myself seeing the world through their eyes, especially where Nafisi condemns them the most. I can see them so caught up in their spiritual transformation that they want the world around them to be as pure. They see their country falling to the leftist extreme and they want to save it. We see our country falling into moral decay and we say "don't judge and don't preach." We fall on the other extreme and while freedom of choice is always preferable, I don't know that a social rejection of morality and religion is the answer either. Just for the record, I think the revolution was deplorable and I would have hated and feared to live through it. The backwards control of these men over women riles me. I'm just saying, I could see intention on both sides, and maybe a glimmer or redemption for some, but I don't think that was Nafisi's intention. I think I saw it to spite her because I wanted her to appreciate morality more and I wanted to counteract her bitterness. My favorite part of the book was in the Gatsby chapter when the students put The Great Gatsby on trial to see if it was worthy to read in an Islamic country. (I find it amusing that they take no issue with Lolita but Austen is too much.) I loved this section because it discussed the purpose of literature, to learn and grow and not merely to be a window of morality. I often find that I learn more and feel more for a book that is not happy and clean, but one that tackles difficult issues, that makes me consider moral issues, not by showing me morality but by examining it and the lack of it. It strengthens my morality instead of deface it. Nafisi said: "A great novel heightens your senses and sensitivity to the complexities of life and of individuals, and prevents you from the self righteousness that sees morality in fixed formulas about good and evil." I loved the concept of reading books from your frame of reference, that the women of Iran were comparing the themes of these books to their own lives, to the restrictions of marriage, to the laws about wearing veils, so that the books not only become a picture of this other world, but help them understand their own as well. There are some very thought-provoking sections in the book and some beautiful illusions, but Nafisi tries to hard to drive in metaphors, to give us the sense of the surroundings, to make us understand her thought process, to pound the theme "Reading Lolita in Tehran" in just about every other paragraph, that the richness of the story is often lost in details about who ordered what kind of coffee and where people sat in her classroom and what the weather was like. There is a good story in there, but it got lost in the literature.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Oriana

    In case you don't know about this book yet (though, honestly, how could you not know about this book yet?), it is an absolutely amazing memoir by an Iranian woman who was a professor of English & Persian literature at the University of Tehran before, during, and after the revolution and war with Iraq. Once wearing the veil became mandatory and she refused to wear one, she was forced to quit teaching, and one way she came up with to fill her time was to gather several of her most dedicated st In case you don't know about this book yet (though, honestly, how could you not know about this book yet?), it is an absolutely amazing memoir by an Iranian woman who was a professor of English & Persian literature at the University of Tehran before, during, and after the revolution and war with Iraq. Once wearing the veil became mandatory and she refused to wear one, she was forced to quit teaching, and one way she came up with to fill her time was to gather several of her most dedicated students for a once-weekly literature class. In it, they discussed books like The Great Gatsby, Pride and Prejudice, Lolita (duh), etc. This book is triple-layered. The first layer is Nafisi's memoir of the tumultuous times she lived in in Tehran, which she watched go from one of the most progressive, intellectual cities in the world to one of the most restrictive and repressive. You can see many of her friends and relatives here, and learn about the different ways people dealt with everything -- from withdrawing completely from society to picking sides and becoming more vocal and fervent about religion, politics, nationalism, etc. The second layer is Nafisi's memoirs of being a professor of literature in such times, including one astonishing episode where her class actually puts The Great Gatsby on trial to determine whether it is decadent, Western poison or a work of high art. Not to mention the memories of the women in her literature class, how they coped with the readings, one another, and their lives in Iran. The third layer, which for me catapults this book into a work of absolute genius, is Nafisi's theories on and explications of the books themselves, including how they relate to the struggles and culture of both of the above layers. Nafisi's brilliant theories about literature, her clear, inviting voice, and the much-needed internal perspective she gives us (Americans) on a country and culture that we are essentially taught to loathe all combine to make this one of the most incredible books I've ever read. Three times.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Greta

    “What we search for in fiction is not so much reality but the epiphany of truth.” This book isn’t a fast read. I’ve started reading this memoir 24 October, and I only finished part 1 so far -77 pages of 347- and that already took me a while! Maybe I’m in a reading slump, but I doubt that, because I’m eager enough to read. Some other reviewers complained that the book is tedious, disjointed and all over the place, and that the author’s tone is smug and self-important. Except from the fact that w “What we search for in fiction is not so much reality but the epiphany of truth.” This book isn’t a fast read. I’ve started reading this memoir 24 October, and I only finished part 1 so far -77 pages of 347- and that already took me a while! Maybe I’m in a reading slump, but I doubt that, because I’m eager enough to read. Some other reviewers complained that the book is tedious, disjointed and all over the place, and that the author’s tone is smug and self-important. Except from the fact that when the author refers to the girls who come to her private reading class, she always talks about ‘My girls’, which for some reason I find irritating, I’m not sure yet if I share these criticisms. For me, it’s just such a book that’s interesting enough, but not really absorbing, so I just plough on through it, in search of those ’epiphanies of truth’ in Western literature for Iranian veiled women. I haven’t read any of the novels that are being discussed in this book, but I don’t consider this to be an obstacle for being able to understand the references to these well-known works. Even so, someone who read those classics, will probably benefit from it while reading this book. (5 November 2018). Part I - Lolita “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.” “What Nabokov creates for us in Invitation to a Beheading is not the actual pain and torture of a totalitarian regime but the nightmarish quality of living in an atmosphere of perpetual dread. ... Unlike in other utopian novels, the forces of evil here are not omnipotent ; Nabokov shows us their frailty as well. They are ridiculous and they can be defeated, and this does not lessen the tragedy—the waste. Invitation to a Beheading is written from the point of view of the victim, one who ultimately sees the absurd sham of his persecutors and who must retreat into himself in order to survive. Those of us living in the Islamic Republic of Iran grasped both the tragedy and absurdity of the cruelty to which we were subjected. We had to poke fun at our own misery in order to survive. We also instinctively recognized poshlust—not just in others, but in ourselves. This was one reason that art and literature became so essential to our lives : they were not a luxury but a necessity. What Nabokov captured was the texture of life in a totalitarian society, where you are completely alone in an illusory world full of false promises, where you can no longer differentiate between your savior and your executioner.” “In most of Nabokov’s novels—Invitation to a Beheading, Bend Sinister, Ada, Pnin—there was always the shadow of another world, one that was only attainable through fiction. It is this world that prevents his heroes and heroines from utter despair, that becomes their refuge in a life that is constantly brutal. Take Lolita. This was the story of a twelve-year-old girl who had nowhere to go. Humbert had tried to turn her into his fantasy , into his dead love, and he had destroyed her. The desperate truth of Lolita’s story is not the rape of a twelve-year-old by a dirty old man but the confiscation of one individual’s life by another. We don’t know what Lolita would have become if Humbert had not engulfed her. Yet the novel, the finished work, is hopeful, beautiful even, a defense not just of beauty but of life, ordinary everyday life, all the normal pleasures that Lolita, like Yassi, was deprived of. ... in fact Nabokov had taken revenge against our own solipsizers ; he had taken revenge on the Ayatollah Khomeini, on Yassi’s last suitor, on the dough-faced teacher for that matter. They had tried to shape others according to their own dreams and desires, but Nabokov, through his portrayal of Humbert, had exposed all solipsists who take over other people’s lives.” “At some point, the truth of Iran’s past became as immaterial to those who appropriated it as the truth of Lolita’s is to Humbert. It became immaterial in the same way that Lolita’s truth, her desires and life, must lose color before Humbert’s one obsession, his desire to turn a twelve-year-old unruly child into his mistress. When I think of Lolita, I think of that half-alive butterfly pinned to the wall. The butterfly is not an obvious symbol, but it does suggest that Humbert fixes Lolita in the same manner that the butterfly is fixed ; he wants her, a living breathing human being, to become stationary, to give up her life for the still life he offers her in return. Lolita’s image is forever associated in the minds of her readers with that of her jailer. Lolita on her own has no meaning ; she can only come to life through her prison bars. This is how I read Lolita. Again and again as we discussed Lolita in that class, our discussions were colored by my students’ hidden personal sorrows and joys. Like tearstains on a letter, these forays into the hidden and the personal shaded all our discussions of Nabokov. And more and more I thought of that butterfly; what linked us so closely was this perverse intimacy of victim and jailer.” “Like the best defense attorneys, who dazzle with their rhetoric and appeal to our higher sense of morality, Humbert exonerates himself by implicating his victim—a method we were quite familiar with in the Islamic Republic of Iran. (“We are not against cinema,” Ayatollah Khomeini had declared as his henchmen set fire to the movie houses, “we are against prostitution!”) “Again we skipped back and forth between our lives and novels: was it surprising that we so appreciated Invitation to a Beheading? We were all victims of the arbitrary nature of a totalitarian regime that constantly intruded into the most private corners of our lives and imposed its relentless fictions on us. Was this the rule of Islam? What memories were we creating for our children? This constant assault, this persistent lack of kindness, was what frightened me most.” “I had asked my students if they remember the dance scene in Invitation to a Beheading: the jailer invites Cincinnatus to a dance. They begin a waltz and move out into the hall. In a corner they run into a guard: “They described a circle near him and glided back into the cell, and now Cincinnatus regretted that the swoon’s friendly embrace had been so brief.” This movement in circles is the main movement of the novel. As long as he accepts the sham world the jailers impose upon him, Cincinnatus will remain their prisoner and will move within the circles of their creation. The worst crime committed by totalitarian mind-sets is that they force their citizens, including their victims, to become complicit in their crimes. Dancing with your jailer, participating in your own execution, that is an act of utmost brutality. My students witnessed it in show trials on television and enacted it every time they went out into the streets dressed as they were told to dress. They had not become part of the crowd who watched the executions, but they did not have the power to protest them, either. The only way to leave the circle, to stop dancing with the jailer, is to find a way to preserve one’s individuality, that unique quality which evades description but differentiates one human being from the other. That is why, in their world, rituals—empty rituals —become so central. There was not much difference between our jailers and Cincinnatus’s executioners. They invaded all private spaces and tried to shape every gesture, to force us to become one of them, and that in itself was another form of execution.”

  7. 4 out of 5

    Khush

    The title itself is a rather catchy one, however, I must add that it is an important book. There are so many aspects of this memoir that I value a lot. For me it is less about totalitarian Regimes and Iran, it is more about courage and integrity in times of crisis particularly when one is not allowed to do something as harmless as reading, and therefore one stands up against the bullies. When I read this book, I l felt like I were in a literature class with Ms. Nafisi her students. Re The title itself is a rather catchy one, however, I must add that it is an important book. There are so many aspects of this memoir that I value a lot. For me it is less about totalitarian Regimes and Iran, it is more about courage and integrity in times of crisis particularly when one is not allowed to do something as harmless as reading, and therefore one stands up against the bullies. When I read this book, I l felt like I were in a literature class with Ms. Nafisi her students. Reading forbidden books, discussing writers and then using imaginations to combat the world around; or shall I say, one reads to remain sane inside and not let any regressive forces break the human will and intelligence, and that's what these Iranians do. Very often such narratives are often understood or read in regard to one set of people, one country, one people, the moment we fall in such a trap the very purpose of the book is defeated. The critique in the book is the critique of power, how freedoms are curtailed if one does not pay attention when we ignore and look away. While it is most definitely a book about Iran, but it should not only be read as a portrayal of regressive Iran and the superior west. I guess writers like Nabokov, Fitzgerald, Lawrence are read and claimed in Iran or in other countries for the same reasons they are read in the west. When these writers are banned and their books are burnt in Iran, it is exactly for the same reasons these same writers were once banned in the west. Of course, one feels quite suffocated when one reads the kind of restrictions that are imposed, particularly, on women in Iran. As a reader, I was aghast to read that women have to be in 'hijab' even in a classroom. But the book also tells that it is the new regime that has imposed these laws, Iran before the revolution has been radically different. Looking at the contemporary world, it seems absurd now that Muslim women are now policed and shamed in the same way, but for different reasons, not only in Iran but also in the most advanced nations of the world. Personally, I think that the whole politics of 'Hijab' whether of the Mullahs or the Trumpists mirror each other. I am sure someone like Ms. Nafisi who wrote such an exemplary book concerning the situation in Iran in the days of revolution must have now, being a US resident, a lot to do in the US.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Laurae1212

    I am a lover of books. I am a lover of history. I am a lover of cultures. Consequently, I expected to love this book. Sadly, I found my dissappointment growing with each page I turned. The premise of the novel was certainly interesting- exploring times, the way that they were viewed, the oppression of women, religious fanaticism and political regimes that adopted Sharia, family, and the overall way that a country grew dissillusioned with iteself through novels was certainly an interesting one. Y I am a lover of books. I am a lover of history. I am a lover of cultures. Consequently, I expected to love this book. Sadly, I found my dissappointment growing with each page I turned. The premise of the novel was certainly interesting- exploring times, the way that they were viewed, the oppression of women, religious fanaticism and political regimes that adopted Sharia, family, and the overall way that a country grew dissillusioned with iteself through novels was certainly an interesting one. Yet, the novel failed to fulfill its promise. I was very hopeful at the beginning, I quite enjoyed the section on Lolita, and I feel I would have even had I not read Nabokov previously. However, then, as we turned to Gatsby, that initial love died. Now, don't get me wrong, it had nothing to do with Gatsby itself. I adore The Great Gatsby and F.Scott Fitzgerald. But there was such an abrupt shift in time and place, and even in character- I lost all connection I had to the girls I had grown attached to, and I no longer felt any attachment to the author herself. Suddenly, she started to become very self-centered. Some of her complaints seemed too petty, after all there are problems within every nation, but more than that, it was not that she sought refuge in her books, but that she expected others to do the same that annoyed me. I enjoyed the actual analysis on Gatsby, but I the author grew more and more conceited as it went on. It just continued from there on. The novel continued to offer disconnected snapshots of life, that while powerful, never allowed me to truly emphasize because as quickly as they came they faded. Always there was a fleeing to books. And while I could see how the books connected, none seemed to resonate with the actual problems in the country as much as Lolita had. Gatsby and the failed dream I could understand- by Daisy Miller I was lost. Now, admittedly, I have never much enjoyed James, but I found that besides the point, asI also disliked other sections dealing with books I enjoyed. I was truly hoping for the book to redeem itself with an intelligent and relevant discussion of Pride and Prejudice. It failed utterly. I found the end dissatisfying, less connected than anything previously, and it had even lost what had made it charming to begin with- no longer was there an insightful discussion of novels, nor did I feel anything for the author or even the students much at this point. They were completely removed from me, I saw them through a lens, as studies not as actual people. Since this is a memoir, and these people are all real, this is a great failing. They are people who are supposed to come alive, and I felt as they were besotted with themselves, their own pretension, particularly Nafisi's, was unbearable. There were some positive aspects of the book- it gave me a great insight, if often tinged- I felt Nafisi was too biased, I understand why, but I thought that she regarded all of the revolutionaries as inferior beings, not intellectual in the least simply because they had different ideals- into the Iranian revolution and the culture there, and gave me new insights into some of my favorite novels. I am only saddened that the clear bias and narcissism of the author ruined this experience for me. It could have been a great intellectual and cultural study. As it was, it was merely decent, and while the subject material was engaging, I was wishing for it to end.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Naomi

    I read this book while I was down with the flu, which added a dimention to my reading as I was isolated in my room for a couple of days. I read some of the reviews for this book on Good Reads and I must say my experience of this book is quite different from what some other people have reported. Azar's opening two chapters were enough to suck me into her world and engross me. Her reading of Lolita was wonderful and I like the way she able to bring her reading of this book, her reflections on Humb I read this book while I was down with the flu, which added a dimention to my reading as I was isolated in my room for a couple of days. I read some of the reviews for this book on Good Reads and I must say my experience of this book is quite different from what some other people have reported. Azar's opening two chapters were enough to suck me into her world and engross me. Her reading of Lolita was wonderful and I like the way she able to bring her reading of this book, her reflections on Humbolt into the context of her own experiences in Tehran. One of the criticisms of this book that I read on Good Reads is that her reading material is too western centric - i.e. that she gives too much praise to the literature of America and therefore might give the American reader the impression that their lit is 'better' than Islamic or Iranian literature. I didn't read her book choices in this way. In a way, because America became such a central focus of hatred for the regime in Iran during the revolution she picked this material to demonstrate how biased and myopic this focus was, and how it failed to see the complexity of American life - i.e. that books like Lolita or the Great Gatsby were not recieved with one interpretation in America and that many of the criticisms leveled at those books in the Iranian context were also been discussed in America - i.e. that they were immoral or had flawed heros. She talks quite considerably about the difficulty of becoming as she calls it 'irrelevant' in her own country. She describes the constant scrutiny that women get on the streets if they are seen to be too alluring or if they wear 'pink socks' or let their nails grow or have a strand of hair fall out from under her head covering. I was thinking of this in the light of my own 'Australian' context. Obviously my life is not as restricted in terms of what I wear or how I choose to adorn or comport myself in public. In fact, these choices are fairly banal and mundane. Yet, for Azar this restriction caused her to examine aspects of herself and her society to work out what really mattered. Because the system made socks important, choosing to wear pink or striped socks became a subversive act. Beyond the immediate existential questions of how an individual is able to deal with having their public and private lives so micro managed, I also enjoyed her questioning of the effects of these policies on society as a whole and especially her understanding of the role of literature in allowing a person to understand complexity in life as a whole. I must say, when I read her passage about the 'trial' of the novel 'the great Gatsby' in her class, I experienced a different book than I had read. She managed to inject me with a wonderful sense of excitement and a desire to reread Gatsby with new eyes.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Kareena

    This was a tough read. I suppose I would have appreciated it more if I had read all the books that were referenced in this one. And if I studied literature, studied the meaning of every scene, every characterization, every image from the books, I might have appreciated it. Unfortunately this was much too deep and a serious study of literature. I enjoyed her accounts of life in Tehran and the characters in her book. I enjoyed her personal accounts and her life stories. Unfortunately tr This was a tough read. I suppose I would have appreciated it more if I had read all the books that were referenced in this one. And if I studied literature, studied the meaning of every scene, every characterization, every image from the books, I might have appreciated it. Unfortunately this was much too deep and a serious study of literature. I enjoyed her accounts of life in Tehran and the characters in her book. I enjoyed her personal accounts and her life stories. Unfortunately true life was weaved into the fiction from novels i've never read, so I couldn't appreciate her insights and found her writing high-brow and much too seriously intellectual for me to read it without zoning out every so often. The middle parts of the book go into depth about her background and her life experiences which I found the most interesting. The beginning and end delve far too much into the literary world. I suppose if you're a serious student of literature this book is a gold. But me being a casual reader, it was hard to swallow.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Lorenzo Berardi

    I hadn't read Nabokov's Lolita when I started this one. What aroused my curiosity here was not the artfully chosen title of the novel, but its setting: the Islamic Republic of Iran, formerly known as Persia. Truth be told, Iran has always interested me a lot, indeed. Amir, my best friend during secondary school, had Iranian roots and he was (and still is) one of the most clever persons I know. I used to say that when Amir and I were 12 year old, we talked about topics I haven't found anyone to s I hadn't read Nabokov's Lolita when I started this one. What aroused my curiosity here was not the artfully chosen title of the novel, but its setting: the Islamic Republic of Iran, formerly known as Persia. Truth be told, Iran has always interested me a lot, indeed. Amir, my best friend during secondary school, had Iranian roots and he was (and still is) one of the most clever persons I know. I used to say that when Amir and I were 12 year old, we talked about topics I haven't found anyone to speak with for at least the following ten years. We were keen on discussing stuff such as modern architecture, classical composers, politics, computer science and so on. (but we didn't forget girls, of course!). What a pity I've not been in touch with Amir over the last years. Anyway. Amir used to tell me a lot about Iran too and the same did a few years ago Ziba - a girl with Iranian roots - whom I met working as an estate agent. Ziba and Amir described me life in Teheran countless times, each with their own different views, telling me about their relatives there, the rise of ayatollah Khomeini and the fall of the Shah, Reza Pahlavi. Sometimes they were quite critical towards Iran, sometimes not. This book by Azar Nafisi gives an interesting portrait of the most turbulent period of Iran's history during the 1970s and the 1980s although coming from a sort of privileged narrator. The author comes from a rich Iranian family, she studied and then taught in the US so that some accused her to have abandoned her homecountry when the situation there got too hectic to bear. The book itself has two layers of interpretation. On the one hand, it aims to explain to young Iranians western literature, choosing perhaps not its greatest books (e.g. 'The Great Gatsby', 'Wuthering Heights', 'Lolita'). Mrs Nafisi recounts the private lessons she gave at her home talking about these forbidden novels with her students while sipping a cup of tea as if they were chatting in a reading club. On the other hand, professor Nafisi's lessons show the rising difficulties of having a free life in Teheran during Khomeini's revolution. Those were the dogmatic years coming straight after the Shah's clumsy attempts to westernise the country. All in a sudden, after having sported jeans or miniskirts, the Iranian women had to hide their bodies from head to toe. And yet, many an Iranian lady, didn't stop to make themselves up although behaving more meekly and discreetly than they did before. Someone might say this behaviour was only vanity, but I believe it was the best way to declare and reaffirm their independence as women and human beings. In this book there are many key moments about recent Iranian's history like the troubles at Teheran University, bloodsheds, the destructions of "dangerous" books, or Khomeini mass funerals which Nafisi describes better than a documentary. Sometimes "Reading Lolita in Tehran" looks like a counterposition between a secularist point of view and a strictly religious one, between a wide culture and a narrow fanaticism. Although this book is not what I might call a masterpiece. it was one of the most interesting and mind opening reads I had over the last years. (Review heavily corrected and partially changed in September 2014 as my written English, back in 2004, was no short than awful!)

  12. 5 out of 5

    Ana

    To read a book about women who read Lolita in Tehran is to open the window to a world of dismay, in which even an act so pure and simple as enjoying fiction is considered treason, punishable by the wrongly proclaimed authorities in your life. I am constantly on the lookout for books which challenge my view of the world, or who have the power to paint a picture of another way of life, that I have been fortunate enough to never experience. "Reading Lolita in Tehran" is one of those books.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Gary

    More than a combination of literary criticism and memoirs of living through the totalitarian ruthlessness of Islamist-ruled Iran, this book essentially examines how the author and a group of friends took refuge in literature from the totalitarian nightmare. And at the same time using that literature to make sense of life under Islamo-Nazi repression. The women in the group are able to make analogies of the works of Vladimir Nabokov, Jane Austen, Henry James and F Scott Fitzgerald with More than a combination of literary criticism and memoirs of living through the totalitarian ruthlessness of Islamist-ruled Iran, this book essentially examines how the author and a group of friends took refuge in literature from the totalitarian nightmare. And at the same time using that literature to make sense of life under Islamo-Nazi repression. The women in the group are able to make analogies of the works of Vladimir Nabokov, Jane Austen, Henry James and F Scott Fitzgerald with the society in which they live. The villain of Nabokov's Lolita, Humbert, rapes a twelve year old girl and thus the book is about the confiscation of one individuals life by another. Humbert has tried to shape another soul according to his own hopes and dreams. So the author is taking revenge on the Ayatollah and the Mullahs for confiscating the lives of the people of Iran, for their war against women. This is a society in which girls are punished most brutally for wearing coloured shoe laces, running in the school yard or licking ice cream in public. Where women are flogged for wearing nail polish. Marxist and left wing feminists in the West pour scorn on taking up the cause of oppressed women in Iran, as the Iranian Marxists did at the beginning of the Islamic Revolution of 1979, before they themselves became victims. "They claimed that there were bigger fish to fry' the author explains "That the imperialists and their lackeys need to be dealt with first. Focusing on women's rights was individualistic and bourgeois and played into their hands" "What imperialists?" asks the author acting as a much needed voice of true conscience 'Do you mean those battered and bruised faces on television confessing to their crimes? Do you mean the prostitutes they recently stoned to death, or my former school principal Mrs Parsa, who like the prostitutes was accused of "corruption on earth", "sexual offences", and "violation of decency and morality" for having been the minister of education. For which offenses was she put in a sack and then shot or stoned to death. Are those the lackeys you are talking about, and is it in order to wipe these people out that we have to not protest?" Azar Nafisi has been indeed accused by leftist and Islamist radicals in the West of serving the 'imperialist' or 'neoconservative' cause by writing this novel. So once again the dreams of the people of Iran to enjoy the same freedom , Nafisi's leftwing critics in the West enjoy are denied. Like Humbert in Lolita, the Western Left want to confiscate the lives of the long-suffering people of Iran and shape them according to the formers own hopes and dreams. Like Humbert and like all great myth makers they try to fashion reality of their dream and end up destroying reality and their dream? Nafisi is a true feminist who really cares about the rights and welfare of women unlike so many left wing self-styled feminists in the West, who want people moulded according to their ideals, and have never spoken up for the persecution of women by Islamists, for their own selfish reason

  14. 4 out of 5

    Carol

    While I was reading this book, I was taken back in my mind to my college days. I enjoyed the philosophy behind the books these women studied and was unmistakably reminded of why I have always loved reading so much. I have not read all of the books discussed in the story, but many of them are on my to-read list, and now I am even more eager to read them.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Ivana Books Are Magic

    I'm utterly and absolutely in love with this book. It is a contemporary masterpiece, the kind that deserves to be called a classic upon publication. Reading Lolita in Tehran is such a rare mix of extraordinary philosophical writing, academic literature essays, national history and personal memoir, that it deserves to be called 'one of a kind'. Truth be told, I can think of a similar novel by one Croatian professor of literature (you wouldn't have heard of him), who has been just as successful in I'm utterly and absolutely in love with this book. It is a contemporary masterpiece, the kind that deserves to be called a classic upon publication. Reading Lolita in Tehran is such a rare mix of extraordinary philosophical writing, academic literature essays, national history and personal memoir, that it deserves to be called 'one of a kind'. Truth be told, I can think of a similar novel by one Croatian professor of literature (you wouldn't have heard of him), who has been just as successful in merging philosophy, literary criticism and memoir in his novel Tara, yet his story is obviously different because it is told from a point of view of a woman, a lady academic. “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.” ― Azar Nafisi, Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books Speaking of literary critics and professors, have you ever noticed how only a few literature professors become writers themselves? There are exceptions, but studying and teaching literature at an university level is a demanding job. It is the kind of job where you spend a lot of creative energy. As Orwell said, it is hard to imagine someone teaching all day then sitting down to work on a book. Teaching is one of the most creative jobs out there (if you do it right). You constantly have to reinvent yourself, update your teaching methods and adjust your classes to your student's needs. Speaking of teachers, I did find Nafisi's teaching recollections fascinating. This book works quite well as a mixed genre. I feel like the only review that would be worthy of such a novel would be a book itself, preferably one as intelligently and poetically written as Reading Lollita in Tehran. It was hard to tell what I found more fascinating about this book, the modern political history of Iran, the moral dilemma of wearing a veil or being forced to abandon teaching, the nearly impossible challenge of keeping high academic standards in a militant Islamic Republic, amazing literary essays or Nafisi's personal memories( and within them hidden the tales of her students and family members). Nafisi tells her tale from a distinctly female point of view. Most of the characters in the book are Iranian women, and I feel that this book is first and foremost about them, about what it means to be a women in Iran. There are some important male characters that feature in Nafisi's novel as well, such as the magician and her husband, but I think the author intended to give the voice to all the Iranian women, a voice that has been taken from them. I wondered about how Iranian women must have felt a number of times. This book gave me some answers. They are not easy answers, but they deserve to be heard. Many of us who have seen the photographs of Iran from the seventies and the eighties find it heard to connect them with present day Iran. The photographs of beautiful young woman walking in perfectly maintained parks wearing flare jeans, mini skirts and T-shirts. What it was like for those women to see their daughters and granddaughter publicly beaten and lashed because a strain of hair escaped their veil? “These students of mine, like the rest of their generation, were different from mine in one fundamental aspect. My generation complained of a loss, the void in our lives that was created when our past was stolen from us, making us exile in our own country. Yet we had a past to compare with the present; we had memories and images of what had been taken away. But my girls spoke constantly of stolen kisses, films they had never seen and the wind they had never felt on their skin. This generation had no past. Their memory was of a half-articulated desire, something they had never had. It was this lack, their sense of longing for the ordinary, taken-for-granted aspects of life, that gave their words a certain luminous quality akin to poetry.” ― Azar Nafisi, Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books There is only one thing in which I disagree with Nafisi. When she says: " It is only through literature that one can put oneself in someone else's shoes and understand the other's different and contradictory sides and refrain from becoming too ruthless. Outside the sphere of literature only one aspect of individuals is revealed. But if you understand their different dimensions you cannot easily murder them." I wouldn't agree that it is not only through literature that one can learn to emphasize with others. There are other ways, not necessarily connected with reading. Art exists in many mediums, and literature is not the only way to express the complexities of our human hearts. Nevertheless, Nafisi is right in pinpointing the reason why totalitarian regimes hate good literature. Moreover, she is absolutely correct in describing the power of literature. No wonder that the totalitarian regimes hate literature so much. Good literature has the potential of making us better individuals. In that sense, books are truly magic. Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books. If you examine the full title of this book carefully, you can get an idea of what this book is about. It's indeed a book about the reading experience in Tehran. It is about studying, reading and teaching Nabokov, Fitzgerald, James and etc under the totalitarian regime. It's about reading in general and what it means to be a reader. It is a memoir in books, because books are an essential part of it. But it is also so much more. A book about what it is to be human, that answers the question about why do we need art and literature in the first place. It is as educating as it is touching. I don't remember when I have last been so deeply touched by a novel. It's absolutely a masterpiece. A must read for lovers of literature.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Zanna

    I wrote this review before I read Jasmine and Stars. I was too generous to Nafisi. This book is very personal and my enjoyment of it is very much rooted in my experience of living with Iranian people in the UK and fascination with the country's history and culture. When I first read the book about ten years ago, I was astonished to read about how the 1979 revolution, which is seen by most Westerners as the triumph of Muslim extremists and had been described to me as the British/American led r I wrote this review before I read Jasmine and Stars. I was too generous to Nafisi. This book is very personal and my enjoyment of it is very much rooted in my experience of living with Iranian people in the UK and fascination with the country's history and culture. When I first read the book about ten years ago, I was astonished to read about how the 1979 revolution, which is seen by most Westerners as the triumph of Muslim extremists and had been described to me as the British/American led replacement of the insufficiently compliant Shah, looked to Nafisi on the ground. Whatever the international machinations (she doesn't discuss them), it's clear that the internal push to unseat the dictatorial monarch was anti-imperialist, whether Marxist, nationalist or 'Islamist'. As Edward Said tells us, Orientalism ignores political and economic factors in the Middle East, tying every narrative to the rigid structure of its construction of Islam. What struck me on this reading, actually, was how closely aligned with Western ideas of Iran and of Islam Nafisi's perspectives seem to me. I recognise that it's totally ridiculous of me to say that but I'm going to say it anyway (she did spend 17 years studying in the USA before the period of teaching in Tehran described here) Of course, I'm not here to defend the regime that, as Nafisi says, reduced the age of consent for women from eighteen to nine, prescribed death by stoning as punishment for adultery, disappeared its dissidents and spat out their corpses, not to mention exiled my friends, but I am sceptical that things were really so great before the corrupt clerics came to power, especially for people of a lower social class than Nafisi. I'm also a bit depressed by her caustic dismissal of 'Islamic feminism' as an oxymoron. I know numerous Muslim feminists so I believe in them wholeheartedly. For Nafisi the veil, and specifically the imposition of the veil, is of great importance, and naturally I agree with her that imposing the hijab on women (NB the Quran does not tell women to veil and, I understand, characterises law as open to interpretation) robs them of meaningful self expression; women who choose to wear it cannot use it express their devotion to Islam, and women who otherwise would not are forced into a limiting uniform. I feel moreover, and I wish Nafisi was more nuanced on this, that the choice to wear the veil is more than self expression - I understand it not only as identity symbol but as an active part of a woman's faith practice and relationship to her faith and to society. To some wearing the veil is a feminist act (NB feminism is a multi-stranded ID-in movement so back off). All the more reason to despise a regime that strips women of agency, but not to question the integrity and agency of those who veil... This review is coming out all wrong! I sound like I don't empathise with Nafisi and her students, unable to dress the way they want in public, to write and say what they want without fear of incarceration, to sit in a cafe with unrelated men, to dance to music or watch films unmutilated by the censor. And also, this is Nafisi's memoir and I suspect I am engaging in cultural imperialism by complaining about how she chose to share her truth. Repeatedly, she talks about the regime's colonisation of public space and discourse. Surely I'd share her vehemence in her position. And her memoir is not devoid of nuance. Her students have different views and she respects them, and worries that she is painting the USA as a paradise for them and making them long to leave Iran. And of course, her love for traditional Iranian culture runs deep. Anyway what about the book? Is it good? Well, yes I think so. It reflects on classics of Western literature through the prism of middle-class academic women's experience in revolutionary Tehran. Or on the experience of living in Khomeini's Iran as an English teacher and mother via the values and metaphors of great authors of the Western tradition. And of course, the true stories of a diverse group of young women. Whichever way you want it, it's quite interesting. On her discussion of Austen, Nabokov et al, having read Decolonising the Mind I'm interested that she considers the 'universal' emotional aspects of the books AS their politics of liberation; in her situation the right to love and to feel is more keenly desired than, for example, economic equality; I'd like to witness a discussion between Nafisi and Ngugi wa Thiong'o about liberation!

  17. 4 out of 5

    Lena

    In the shadows of all the bluster coming out of Iran these days, I try to remember those stories I've heard about Iranians who do not share the religious fervor of their political leaders and long for a more open society than the one that they currently have. Azar Nafisi's memoir about her life as a literature professor in Tehran the years following the revolution gave me a moving and painful glimpse into the lives of those who chafe under a kind of repression that I can only imagine. Nafisi was In the shadows of all the bluster coming out of Iran these days, I try to remember those stories I've heard about Iranians who do not share the religious fervor of their political leaders and long for a more open society than the one that they currently have. Azar Nafisi's memoir about her life as a literature professor in Tehran the years following the revolution gave me a moving and painful glimpse into the lives of those who chafe under a kind of repression that I can only imagine. Nafisi was an idealistic young professor when she first returned to Iran to teach in the wake of the revolution. She recounts with clear insight how her own revolutionary leanings and political naiveté gave way to a growing sense of dread as she realized that the political changes wrought by the revolution were much more of the frying-pan-into-the-fire variety than anything else. Like all good memoirs, Nafisi's account of her own struggles against the growing restrictions placed on her both as a woman and an academic gave me a powerful sense of what it must have been like for those women who saw their freedom snatched away in the name of a rigid ideology. There were many moments in this book that left me with a haunting, visceral sense of events I hope I never experience: the worry that can erupt when a friend's failure to show up for an appointment immediately conjures up images of secret police, torture, and permanent disappearance, or the sheer disbelief at a failed state plot to murder nearly two dozen troublesome writers. Nafisi learned to cope with the grim reality around her by escaping into the world she loved best, that of the literature she taught on and off at various universities during her stay. During her last years, she ran a private class for female students in which they discussed the works of Nabokov, Fitzgerald, James and Austin. The lessons she and her students learn from these books are intricately woven through the personal stories of the girls themselves. One might think the veiled women of the Islamic Republic would have little in common with the heroines such as Daisy Miller or Elizabeth Bennet, yet Nafisi's eloquent tale makes clear that the power of literature to help us better understand ourselves transcends borders, cultures, and the repression of ideological systems that cannot comprehend the complex, gray shades of human nature literature is so good at revealing.

  18. 5 out of 5

    K.D. Absolutely

    This book is a must read for all those who love modern classic literature and who are interested on what happened in Iran during the reign of Ayatollah Khomeini and the Iran-Iraq war in the early 80s. I was in college that time and I have been hearing and reading bits of news about that war. This book completed that story particularly its impact on the ordinary people particularly on its main characters. Azar Nafisi, a lady author, effectively related her favorite modern fiction works This book is a must read for all those who love modern classic literature and who are interested on what happened in Iran during the reign of Ayatollah Khomeini and the Iran-Iraq war in the early 80s. I was in college that time and I have been hearing and reading bits of news about that war. This book completed that story particularly its impact on the ordinary people particularly on its main characters. Azar Nafisi, a lady author, effectively related her favorite modern fiction works (Lolita of Nabokov, Gatsby of Fitzgerald, Daisy Miller of Henry James and Pride and Prejudice of Jane Austen) in this tumultuous era of Iran's rich history. Lolita was used as the back draft for the reading group's introduction of the women characters and how the Lolita's rape could be compared to the discrimination (symbolizes by the wearing of veil) that women in Iran suffered from its own laws. The trial of Gatsby built the climax of the story by providing the contrast between the belief of the Nafisi's male characters with their counterparts in THE GREAT GATSBY. The Iran-Iraq war happened at the height of the plot's climax interwined with the Henry James' novels particularly Daisy Miller. Here the female characters suffered the most but they chose to be brave, just like Daisy. Finally, the most interesting contrast was provided by Jane Austen's novels and the end of the war. Interesting because Austen's English novels were described by Nafisi as like a big dance which for me takes a genius to relate it to a war-torn Moslem country after about a decade of war. I have read most of the novels mentioned except the third part: James. This is the reason why I almost enjoyed reading all the pages of the book as I knew what Nafisi was trying to say through the characters she borrowed from the literary greats (Nabokov, Fitzgerald, James and Austen). There are equally great other books and authors and this just proves that Nafisi knows her stuff. I have never encountered this writing style before so I am giving this book a five star rating.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    An outstanding account by a literature professor of keeping the life of imagination alive through shared experience of fiction during the repressive decades of fundamentalist Muslim rule in Iran. The rise of Khomeini after the downfall of the corrupt regime of the Shah in the late 70's ushered in a cultural revolution that purged the universities of anyone who seemed to support decadent Western values and made the wearing of the veil (or chador) mandatory for women in public settings. Nafisi sur An outstanding account by a literature professor of keeping the life of imagination alive through shared experience of fiction during the repressive decades of fundamentalist Muslim rule in Iran. The rise of Khomeini after the downfall of the corrupt regime of the Shah in the late 70's ushered in a cultural revolution that purged the universities of anyone who seemed to support decadent Western values and made the wearing of the veil (or chador) mandatory for women in public settings. Nafisi survives in her position for awhile by her even handed approach to the negative sensibilities both leftist radicals and conservative Muslims as they work their way through older English literature, such as Henry James and Jane Austen. When the underlying themes of being true to love despite parental or social disapproval are seen as threatening values to such students, she has the class stage a mock trial of a novel for immorality, specifically of Fitzgerald's Great Gatsby. Eventually Nafisi is fired from the University of Tehran for not wearing the veil. The long war with Iraq makes it even more important to her to nurture the life of the mind, and she returns to teaching at another university (this time with a veil). To promote a more free discussion of literature, she starts a secret reading group in her own home, allowing an approach to more blatantly controversial novels, such as Nabokov's Lolita. This class is where Nafisi's book starts and returns to as the narrative moves back and forth in time. We learn much about the varied lives of her students as they take varied pathways of accommodation or rebellion in a society that cannot succeed in stamping out their vibrant spirits. A very enriching and hope inspiring read.

  20. 4 out of 5

    MissBecka

    I didn't enjoy this as much as I hoped I would. The writing is very impersonal and detached for a memoir. The dispassionate monotone delivery of the narration made this more abundant. I was actually quite bored for the majority of this audio book, which is 18.5 hours long. There was a large portion where dissections of the books they read at the gatherings were delivered in the book like a university lecture. This made me a little upset since some of the books she delves into detail about I I didn't enjoy this as much as I hoped I would. The writing is very impersonal and detached for a memoir. The dispassionate monotone delivery of the narration made this more abundant. I was actually quite bored for the majority of this audio book, which is 18.5 hours long. There was a large portion where dissections of the books they read at the gatherings were delivered in the book like a university lecture. This made me a little upset since some of the books she delves into detail about I have not actually read and now know far too much about. I had hoped this was going to be more of a novel style memoir where she gives us all the same information she did, but that the content would have been arranged in a more digestible format.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Iqbal Al-Zirqi

    This was a book wich introduced me to Azar Nafisi and her life in Iran before and during the Islamic revolution. I have to admit that when I started reading the book, I was slightley restless with the way she was describing each girl student who was joining her class at her house. However, little by little, I could not sleep whole nights before finishing it. The thing is that Nafisi is very clever author who knows how to attract you in a sneaky way. She pulled me to the atmosphere of the Iran un This was a book wich introduced me to Azar Nafisi and her life in Iran before and during the Islamic revolution. I have to admit that when I started reading the book, I was slightley restless with the way she was describing each girl student who was joining her class at her house. However, little by little, I could not sleep whole nights before finishing it. The thing is that Nafisi is very clever author who knows how to attract you in a sneaky way. She pulled me to the atmosphere of the Iran under the revolution, the impact of this revolution on women, and even on children, and she managed to relate this all to Lolita, the young innocent girl who was both a victim of her stepfather and also of herself. It was maginificent to thinks about the psycological aspects of opression by religious revolution and its men. Her way of taking you to Iran under the revolution, was so indirect, but at the same time, so intense!! It was horrifying most to see how the intellectual freedom, the questioning in the University of Tehran was affected in a more dramatic way than just covering women. The internal story of each girl in her gathering at home, her internal story, her friends, her professors, were all part of the chain that captured me reading and living in this book. The way she described American novels and their main characters gave a lot of depth to the psycological atmosphere of opressing freedom in different societies. The book is big, but it flows easily with the reader. I loved this book and I recommend it strongly.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Book Riot Community

    I bought this book years ago and let it sit on my shelf collecting dust until recently. I am so glad I finally picked it up! Aside from the one-sided reports I’ve seen on the news, I’ve always been ignorant of all things Iran. This book educated me on the history of the country and opened my eyes to the beauty and fortitude of the people (specifically the women) who call it home. Nafisi writes about her life before, during, and after her time in Iran through the lense of the Western classics she I bought this book years ago and let it sit on my shelf collecting dust until recently. I am so glad I finally picked it up! Aside from the one-sided reports I’ve seen on the news, I’ve always been ignorant of all things Iran. This book educated me on the history of the country and opened my eyes to the beauty and fortitude of the people (specifically the women) who call it home. Nafisi writes about her life before, during, and after her time in Iran through the lense of the Western classics she read and taught for so many years. Reading Lolita in Tehran is a beautiful testament to the human spirit and the transformative power of literature. — Kate Scott From The Best Books We Read In March: http://bookriot.com/2015/04/01/riot-r...

  23. 4 out of 5

    J

    From its provoking, intriguing title to its very last page, Azar Nafisi's book, Reading Lolita in Tehran, partly a narrative biography, partly a history of a nation and its people, and partly critical analysis of great American and British authors, is astonishing, enlightening, and important. Much like Marjane Satrapi's amazing graphic novels, Nafisi pulls back the headscarves, the long black robes dictated by the Guardian Council, to show us the modern women of Iran and how they fight to mainta From its provoking, intriguing title to its very last page, Azar Nafisi's book, Reading Lolita in Tehran, partly a narrative biography, partly a history of a nation and its people, and partly critical analysis of great American and British authors, is astonishing, enlightening, and important. Much like Marjane Satrapi's amazing graphic novels, Nafisi pulls back the headscarves, the long black robes dictated by the Guardian Council, to show us the modern women of Iran and how they fight to maintain their sense of identity. Focusing in a large part around the seven students Nafisi convinced to meet in her apartment after quitting her job at the University of Tehran, the book introduces us to each of the young women and gives a thumbnail account of her life and its hardships and its joys. There is an early image in the book when the narrator talks to a painter student of hers about color. Paradise, the painter tells her, the color of her paradise is swimming pool blue. A year after the revolution, her father died, the government confiscated their house which included a big swimming pool where she had trained regularly. My paradise is down at the bottom of that swimming pool, she tells her teacher. And that in a nutshell is why such a book like Lolita is so meaningful, so powerful in a place like Iran. In a country where young girls can be arrested for eating an apple to lasciviously or for licking ice cream in public, where the very first action upon seizure of power during the Iranian Revolution (before even writing a new constitution) was to lower the age of consent for marriage from eighteen down to nine, a book about a middle aged man who destroys the life of a pubescent girl is all too familiar. There is much here for fans of Nabokov in general, not just Lolita, but especially (and blackly humorously) An Invitation to a Beheading, Nabokov's most Kafkan story. The mindless, impenetrable mysteries of authoritarianism were wonderfully grasped in Kafka and regardless of ideology powering the system they are almost always universally the same. For Nabokov, who lived under such a system in the Soviet Union, or for Nafisi in Iran, the repression in all its brutal absurdity is the same. Consider that in Iran, under the mullahs, the position of film censor was held by a nearly blind man. It is a curious feature of totalitarian government, as noted by Kundera, that irony is completely and entirely dead among the political class, that the sheer humor to be derived from a blind censor is never apparent. It's black humor is unknown. "Our world under the mullahs' rule," Nafisi writes, "was shaped by the colorless lenses of the blind censor. Not just our reality, but also our fiction had taken on this curious coloration in a world where the censor was the poet's rival in rearranging and shaping reality." What becomes crystal clear as you listen to Nafisi's narration, is what a radical act reading is, how it is peering into a created world and determining your relation to it, it is an act of discovery that sneaks in self-discovery. To discuss books, to talk with a class about them is to articulate your own thinking, it is to think aloud about nothing less than self-discovery. It is all the more important an act of personal revolution when one lives under a totalitarian regime that would dictate to you your personality and appropriate and inappropriate thoughts and beliefs about the world around you. To then discuss with another person your own intimate creation of a world shared with the author is to create an intimacy with others, it is a connection you make of your innermost self with others' innermost selves, it is a connection of your projected conception of yourself with others' projected conception of theirselves. It is, in short, nearly the most important thing in human life. And for repressive forces, it is perhaps the most dangerous rebellion of all. Or as Nabokov puts it, "Curiosity is insubordination in its purest form." The book's second part is primarily made up of a thumbnail history of the Iranian Revolution in which the author found herself whirled. What's surprising is that even in its shrunken form, the history adds to the complexity of the picture in a way American accounts never seem capable of doing. That the early stages of the Revolution was not primarily religious, but that they came to dominate after factionalism crippled the more secular-minded of the youthful revolutionaries and the communist leaders, was something one rarely hears in accounts here in America. It is a step back into the past even more so than the first part. Told from America, the book's first part takes place in 1995 after Afisi has quit the University of Tehran; the second part -- a discussion of The Great Gatsby forming its central theme -- takes place when she was still employed there. Managing to avoid the immediate purge of disloyal and impure employees from the university, the author was constantly amidst the fire, her classes challenging not only students’ abilities to analyze texts but also their blinkered views of the world and how everything is filtered through the prism of revolutionary fervor. This culminates in a mock trial during class in which an intolerant young man as the prosecutor accuses Gatsby of being an immoral work, while a more liberal student defends the novel as its counsel. Nafisi herself sits in the trial as the book itself. In one debate, it is discussed how literature is one of the best ways of learning empathy, of putting yourself in another person's shoes, and in this way we learn how complex people are, how multifaceted and not so black and white. This can be a curb to ruthlessness; thus a moral duty to read ever more complex works; intellectually skimpy novels with black and white caricatures of characters are less likely to assist in the development this moral sense and in fact can retard it. Nafisi tells in her book's third part, this time discussing Henry James, of how it was during the eight years of the Iran-Iraq war. These tempestuous two middle sections contains one of the best glimpses into the human heart of this time is when Nafisi sees the televised confession of an executed military man who had been responsible for her father's imprisonment when she was a child. No matter how much she hated the man and wished for a revenge upon him, his death even, this shaken, shell of a person, repeating the faked confession makes her feel even her own self has been cheapened. The book's fourth part, as the class turns to Jane Austen, turns its focus on the Islamic Revolution's madness when it comes to women. There are too many absurdities to cover within a short review. The banning of nail polish and makeup, the government mandated wardrobe hiding nearly all outward signs of one’s physique, the absurdity of monstrous sheets hung at beaches to segregate the sexes, not to mention the aforementioned Sharia-based nine year old marriage age. This prompts one class wit to remark, "It is a truth universally acknowledged that a Muslim man with or without a good fortune must be in need of a nine year old virgin wife." Which is not to say that everyone else is less oppressed. Going to a concert, one of the few frowned upon but grudgingly accepted entertainments, the crowd is reminded not to behave in a non-Islamic way, which is to say they are warned against showing any emotion or enjoyment. Imagine! A concert of wooden faced musicians, denied even the physicality of swaying or tapping their feet, playing the music of The Mambo Kings to a likewise stoic and immobile crowd. Even applause is silenced by the Revolutionary Guards who stand in attendance, ready to crush even the slightest manifestation of enjoyment. Nevertheless, Nafisi constructs her book so admirably that she turns to society as a reflection of the novels being studied. Thus Henry James' revulsion to WWI is a meditation on the Iran-Iraq war, Gatsby turns on class consciousness and what is the appropriate future of which to dream, and Austen, while dominated by the idea of marriage and male/female relationships, also circles around behavior and its contradictions between private and public. In hearing her stories, in listening to her disquisitions on what is important in novels, Nafisi reminds you of the best professors you’ve ever had. At turns insightful, funny, sensitive to the larger issues that ripple through an author’s work, and capable of expressing her beliefs directly in ways that challenge her listeners but with great respect, Nafisi has written a book that encapsulates a Great Literature class, an Iranian history class, and a good long chat with a friend. The result is nothing less than mesmerizing.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Nicola

    This memoir about the power of books in a time of crisis and oppression definitely falls short of the transitive powers the novels it details possess. Though the overall message of the book is a powerful one, its disjointed narrative structure, organized by theme rather than true chronological order, left me more confused than inspired and did not help in my understanding of the bigger picture. For someone fairly out of the loop as far as politics and world issues go, especially issue This memoir about the power of books in a time of crisis and oppression definitely falls short of the transitive powers the novels it details possess. Though the overall message of the book is a powerful one, its disjointed narrative structure, organized by theme rather than true chronological order, left me more confused than inspired and did not help in my understanding of the bigger picture. For someone fairly out of the loop as far as politics and world issues go, especially issues that started before I was born, I was very confused as to what was going on with the regime in Iran during the book. I could never tell what the separate groups were fighting for, who was in power, or who, if anyone, the author supported. The disjointed structure of the narration, skipping backwards and forwards in time at random intervals, also caused me to lose track of what events were influencing other events and how the people she discussed fit into the grand scheme of things. I feel like some sort of timeline or at least direction to a website for further information would have really helped clear things up in that regard, if an un-chronological narrative structure was necessary to the story. Also unhelpful to the clarity of the memoir was Nafisi’s inconsistent dialogue notations. At some points she used quotation marks, and at other points she dropped them all together. Whole conversations were contained in single paragraphs, making it difficult to tell who was saying what. This uncertainty left me in doubt about the characters’ personalities and voices. It was interesting to see how the moral debates in the novels the students read in Nafisi’s classes fueled the debates about what was going on in their own government at the time. Though the best novels always allow the reader to make personal connections, sometimes it is difficult to see how the people in places as vastly different as Henry James’ America and late twentieth century Iran can have so much in common. However, as one of Nafisi’s students comments in her journal, “‘[I]t was good to know that even in a decadent society like America there were still some norms, some standards according to which people were judged’” (199). Though those standards were certainly not the same in Iran as they were in America, the fact that there are rules and conventions in any place at any time indicates that there will be people there to rebel against such rules. Nafisi and her favorite students are the real life reflections of those who defied society in the novels they so cherished. I found the information and analyses of the books they read in class to be enlightening, provided I had read the book they were discussing. However, in the case of probably half the books they discussed I was lost without a plot synopsis and missed many of the points they were making about the connections to their own culture. I suppose this is less of a negative about the book and more of a reflection on my reading habits and a sign that I should improve them.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Great Book Study

    I would give this 10 stars if I could. My Review: Reading Lolita in Tehran .

  26. 5 out of 5

    Cheryl

    *4.5* You will either hate or love Nabokov, Austen, and James after reading this book. Or curiosity will make you revisit their work, like it made me. At a time when I have Austen's novels lined up to read, this book was handy. Nafisi is an academic--"too much of an academic" she says, one who believes that you don't just read about people like you, instead you read to learn about people unlike you (can we have more professors of literature like her?). It shows in this beau *4.5* You will either hate or love Nabokov, Austen, and James after reading this book. Or curiosity will make you revisit their work, like it made me. At a time when I have Austen's novels lined up to read, this book was handy. Nafisi is an academic--"too much of an academic" she says, one who believes that you don't just read about people like you, instead you read to learn about people unlike you (can we have more professors of literature like her?). It shows in this beautiful memoir on literature in the time of censorship. Nafisii left Iran when she was thirteen, to live in England, Switzerland, and America. She returned at thirty to teach at an Iranian university, when Sharia laws had replaced the regular laws and young Iranian women were in a worse place than their mothers' generations. She tells a lot here about the Iran-Iraq war, the curfew, dress code, and restrictions placed on women (they couldn't even sit at a certain part of a restaurant if unaccompanied by a male and a woman not related to a man was not allowed to sit with him at all). When Nafisi decides to host a comparative literature bookclub-like-class from her home for a few literature lovers, she learns just how much books are liberating to the group. They share a lot of intimate discussions over books like "The Great Gatsby," "Pride and Prejudice," "Lolita," "Daisy Miller," "Gone With the Wind," "Tender is the Night," "The Scarlet Letter"...I could go on and on. Their conversations during these discussions are the highlight of the book. One thing is certain, this book will have you reading more books. If you don't like comparative literature discussions though, it may bore you at times because it is a book on books. Separated into four parts, Nafisi discusses the war, the university, her students, and books. You only get glimpses into her life and thoughts (a bit about her husband and children) at times the book reads like the old form of biography. There are sections where she meets with a male friend she calls her "magician" but for a memoir, it seems so elusive that you're not sure what story she is really trying to tell about him--except that her magician loves books, he is her mentor, and he is an exile within his own country. For this book geek though, this book will have a special place on my shelf and in my heart. "They love this class, she said. They even learned to love Catherine Sloper, though she isn't pretty and lacks everything they look for in a heroine. I said, in these revolutionary times it's hardly surprising that students wouldn't care much about the trials and tribulations of a plain, rich American girl at the end of the nineteenth century. But she protested vehemently. In these revolutionary times, she said, they care even more. I don't know why people who are better off always think that those less fortunate than themselves don't want to have the good things--that they don't want to listen to good music, eat good food or read Henry James."

  27. 4 out of 5

    Heather

    I really would have liked to have seen a lot less "Reading Lolita" and a lot more "in Tehran." I've tried to read this book at least three times over the past three years and each time couldn't muster the energy to plow through it. I think the only reason I made it through this time was because of my long commute and the threat of being due back at the library soon. As I said above, the parts of the book that dealt with the socio-political landscape of the Islamic Republic of Iran - how it chang I really would have liked to have seen a lot less "Reading Lolita" and a lot more "in Tehran." I've tried to read this book at least three times over the past three years and each time couldn't muster the energy to plow through it. I think the only reason I made it through this time was because of my long commute and the threat of being due back at the library soon. As I said above, the parts of the book that dealt with the socio-political landscape of the Islamic Republic of Iran - how it changed so drastically in such a short period of time, how the revolution played out, how the various political decrees affected the lives of women close to the author, how basic rights were chiseled away with little resistance, the various actors at play during the transition between a post-colonial/monarchical ruling body and a theocracy, the role of students in political movements - were absolutely fascinating and, in my view, well-written. On the other hand, the author is a professor of literature and wanted to write about that...which may or may not interest the reader. Each time I tried to read this book, I felt as though there should have been a required reading list prior to picking up "Reading Lolita in Tehran." Though the author chastises intellectualism for the sake of intellectualism, the book is far from accessible. Furthermore, I felt a bit duped because I felt that the book is marketed as a text exploring the socio-political landscape of Iran (see above) and not a tedious, scholarly literary critique. Admittedly, I was humbled by the fact that these Iranian students coveted their copies of foreign literature so deeply and I, one who has so many opportunities to read the classics to which they refer (no doubt even cost-free if I comb through the library's dustiest of shelves or inexpensive in paperback), have not read most of them. It did encourage me to add some of the classics cited in the book to my "to-read" list. What it didn't encourage me to do is recommend this book to others without the warning that it is, first and foremost, a academic literary critique.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Jenny (Reading Envy)

    A good book about the power of books and reading, particularly for women in countries where that is not often encouraged. I feel like I read this sometime in grad school but before I started keeping track. I still haven't read Lolita.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Diane

    I read this for my live bookclub...and if it weren't for that I would not have gotten through it. It was not an easy read by any stretch of the means; I did not truly connect with any of the players. But all of that aside, I am very glad I read this book as it gave me insight into a period of history that I knew fairly little about (I was too engrossed in my own high school and teen life) I'm embarrassed to say. And it also has given me a much clearer understanding of present day relations. Whil I read this for my live bookclub...and if it weren't for that I would not have gotten through it. It was not an easy read by any stretch of the means; I did not truly connect with any of the players. But all of that aside, I am very glad I read this book as it gave me insight into a period of history that I knew fairly little about (I was too engrossed in my own high school and teen life) I'm embarrassed to say. And it also has given me a much clearer understanding of present day relations. While it took all my determination to get through, I would call this book a 'necessary' read and on that I'm very glad I got through.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Patricia Williams

    Another book I could not finish. Just too much. The idea of the story was very good and I like all the characters, especially the "girls" who came to glasses at the home. I was very interested in them and their lives but IMO there was too much of the author saying the same thing over and over again. She was trying to make a point but she kept making the same one. Sorry about this. I wanted to like this book but could not enjoy it.

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