Sunday, January 14, 2007

Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi

These are the memoirs of Azar Nafisi, a Western-educated literature professor at the University of Tehran, beginning with the first murmurs of revolution in Iran and ending with her departure to the United States. The book is divided into four sections, with each named after a book or author. She switches among chronicling events in Iran, analyzing the work or author, and drawing connections between the work/author and life in Iran. When the authoritarian regime begins to crack down, Dr. Nafisi leaves her post as professor and creates her own secret class, inviting specially chosen young women into her home to read and discuss classic literature

It is amazing how, when all possibilities seem to be taken away from you, the minutest opening can become a great freedom.

+ Fresh idea Maybe I'm ignorant, but I'm not aware of many memoirs written through the lens of classic works of fiction. It was definitely interesting to get this new viewpoint.

- Long-winded I guess I should have expected this from an academic, but she really gets long-winded when it comes to analyzing the works she's attempting to relate to. If I wanted to read an analysis of those novels, I would find a scholarly essay.

- Unfamiliarity with the works I've never read Lolita, I read The Great Gatsby so long ago I don't remember it, and I think I was skipping class senior year when we went over our Henry James. But I did read Austen's Pride and Prejudice! So I was 1 for 4. Nafisi explains enough of the novels that you can understand what's going on without reading them, so for the first three sections, I didn't mind. But when I got to the last section, Austen, I realized how much more interesting it was since I was actually familiar with her work. So I would suggest reading up on Humbert, Gatsby, Daisy Miller, and Elizabeth Bennet before tackling this one -- it just makes it more fun

+ Interesting Subject Matter I hate to seem like I'm making light of her suffering, but really the best part of the book was her tales of life under the regime, just because it was so interesting. The horror stories her girls tell of being forced to strip for a hands-on search before entering the university, of going to jail for wearing makeup and then being raped by prison guards, of being beaten by their husbands -- they're like a car wreck. It's terrible and tragic, but you just want to keep looking. I had to keep pinching myself to remember that this is non-fiction, and it really did happen. The posters she describes with Khomeini's face with his war slogans underneath (The more we die, the stronger we will become) alongside the hideous crimes against women make it sound like a dystopian mix of 1984 and The Handmaiden's Tale.

Overall B


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