Friday, November 24, 2006

Reading Lolita in Tehran

Title: Reading Lolita in Tehran ~ A Memoir in Books
Author: Azar Nafisi

Genre: Memoir

ISBN: 081297106x
# of Pages: 347
Published: 2003 Random House

Began Reading: October 17th 2006
Finished Reading: Nov. 7th 2006 (took a little break half way)

Perhaps it is P.’s reliably excellent book-choosing which got us to read another of her picks, or maybe it’s because our book club is really special, ambitious, etc. and can easily tackle reading more than one book a month, despite our dizzyingly busy lives…

Like other humble gatherings, we choose one book that we all read, then meet on the first of every month and discuss, discuss, discuss. Whoever picks the book that month also offers supplementary reading (about 5 books) and this memoir was chosen for... you got it! – Lolita.

P., being from Iran herself, was interested in exploring if Nafisi exaggerated in describing the oppression and fear which plague the women in the book. "Often," she explained, "books written about Iraq, or anywhere else in the Middle East, work-up wearing the hijab & the like to the point where it's just not true. They do it just to sell books..." Although what she said may be true as a generalization, after having devoured this book, Nafisi's voice carries such a ring of betrayal that it is hard to believe the possibility of her distorting her story. If anything, I thank P. once again for her good taste in book recommendations. ;)

Plot Overview: Reading Lolita in Tehran chronicles an illegal love affair in the Islamic Republic of Iran that exists between the forbidden classics of Fitzgerald, Austen, & Nabokov with a group of seven young, intellectual women and their teacher, our narrator, Professor Azar Nafisi. During their Thursday morning meetings, as they speak of Lolita's naughtiness & debate over Darcy's sex appeal, we discover the history of the book club's members and what life situations have forced them into seeking companionship through the written word. In Nafisi's living room we learn of her expulsion from teaching at the university for refusing to wear the veil, the chaotic energy surrounding the student rebellions, & the frequent mental and physical harassment which dogs the people of Iran. This memoir combines an individual’s drive for ambition with a citizen’s ambivalent attachment to her nation and homeland, and depicts her struggle to make sense of it all.

Comments: After reading this book it was hard to understand why Nafisi did not leave earlier. The daily struggles & stress resulting from say, a wisp of hair exposed at the wrong place or time, seems to be motivation enough to leave--not to mention her children’s safety and wellbeing. At one point, Nafisi explains how the progression of Iran was unnatural--instead of thinking of the past as archaic & backward, it was secretly longed for and upheld as a time of freedom & choice. "Before the revolution, [Mashid] could in a sense take pride in her isolation. At the time, she had worn the scarf as a testament to her faith. Her decision was a voluntary act. When the revolution forced the scarf on others, her action became meaningless" (Page 13). If not for having taken a class on world religions, there would have been many details that would have escaped and confused me, namely the rift between the girls who came from different divisions of Islam (log onto CNN for all the dirt on Sunni/Shi'a rift). Nafisi compliments her audience by treating us like post-doc students who will take her work as a starting point to research into her points on literature and Islam.

Best Part: Throughout the work, Nafisi's words become more and more of an Ode to Literature & the Written word. She may even rival my own passionate love affair with books... Above all, it’s her insight on this love and the firm position she takes that makes RLIT so distinct. Nafisi writes, "Every fairy tale offers the potential to surpass present limits, so in a sense the fairy tale offers you freedoms that reality denies. In all great works of fiction, regardless of the grim reality they present, (Lolita being one such piece that comes to mind...) there is an affirmation of the life against the transience of that life, an essential defiance" (page 47).

Oh yes! and the definition of Poshlust & upsilamba... anyone want to dare and define either??...

Not So Great: The book was, once again like Nabokov's classic, too long at parts. Though the information on Iran's policies was fascinating and it is much appreciated to have an insider’s perspective, there comes a time when too many details of injustice and fear can make the reader insensitive--which is what happened to me by the last part of the book. Whenever my mind becomes eager to get to the next book and I am reading more for the sake of finishing it than anything else, it seems there could have been some chopping here & there. ***

Recommend To: The Bibliophile looking for an accomplice. Young women in their later years of high school... it's important for them to understand the cultural relativism. I’d recommend it to my mother as well because she always makes comments about how she doesn't understand why these women do not fight back. Ma, they are. They are trying.

*** Granted, my desire for shorter reads may also be attributed to the stress I feel every night before going to bed as I survey my ever-growing pile of unread books, books I have to re-read, and books I have to study mount ever higher in sharp contrast to the receding amount (seemingly, I guess) of the ones that have already been read. I admit this may make me more of an anxious reader then most. And it definitely isn’t the best way to approach reading, but still I feel this way…


Lotus Reads said...

Thank you for visiting my blog, Nessie, sorry I didn't have any reviews for you there. My main blog is (I mostly read South-Asian and World fiction).

I remember reading "Lolita in Tehran" a while back and at that point in time I was finding it hard to get into, but after reading your review I might want to give it another chance!

Nessie said...

I love reading everything. THats whats great about the book-blog world... easier access to new perspectives

Nan said...

How do you do that with the music on the left??! I have a blog and would love to have this when I post the cover and title of "today's cd". It was so much fun reading your blog and listening to Elvis C. at the same time!

Nessie said...

let me know if it worked out ok. I actually took any music that has the word book or fiction or related words. Thematic you know.

At the site they will give you a html to copy paste... super easy!

Orange Blossom Goddess (aka Heather) said...

I really like the way you set up your review entries. I may start doing this in the new year. Great blog!!

Nan said...

Thank you SO much for the link to radioblogclub. I will use this frequently on my blog. It works beautifully. What a wonder!