Reading Lolita in Tehran

After reading Kite Runner, my boyfriend suggested Reading L… in Tehran as a follow-up. The summary seemed interesting enough, but if you read this blog regularly we all know how he is about loaning out his books. Stanky. This weekend, after whining about how uninteresting (being nice) The Known World was, he surprised me with what I assume to be his copy of Reading L…

I’m about 20 pages into the book and its okay. At least this time around I see that there is a potential story developing, unlike with Jones. My issue is, will I be interested in a memoir which explores books that I’ve never read? I don’t know. Can’t tell yet.

For those of you who haven’t heard of the book, here’s a summary for you:

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

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

Let’s hope for the best here. I need a quick recovery from the last novel.

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