Skip to main content

Book Review: Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi

The book + my favorite reading chair
     Reading this book made me remember all the thousands of reasons why I love to read.
     It is a memoir, but it could also double as Sparknotes - if Sparknotes were about 1000 times more tantalizing and thought-provoking - for classic novels such as Daisy Miller by Henry James, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, and, yes, Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov.  This makes sense because, in this memoir, author Nafisi chooses to remember a book club she created and nurtured during the early years of the Islamic Republic in Tehran, Iran, after quitting her second university job since the Revolution.  In case you didn't know - and my own knowledge of this time period was embarrassingly sparse before I read this book - Iran became a theocracy in 1979 after religious leaders overthrew and ushered out the old Shah monarchy.  Many Iranians hoped that the new government would be an improvement over the old because the Ayatollah, their new leader, promised to preserve their culture and prevent Western countries from intruding.  But in time, even the most insistent supporters became disillusioned with the Islamic Republic.  
     In starting her girls-only book club, which was composed of her most promising former students, Nafisi rebels against two of the Republic's most senseless institutions: its oppression of women and its condemnation of "immoral" literature.  (Most good, layered literature is immoral literature, apparently - if a book mentions sexuality or alcohol, or explores Western/American ideals, or in any way questions the Islamic Republic's simplistic values, it is banned from school curriculums and probably from book shops as well.)   Curled into Nafisi's living room chairs, drinking Turkish coffee and discussing banned novels, the women of her literary group are free to think, to breathe, to discover who they want to be, and to free themselves of the Republic's conception of who they should be.  
     Living under a despotic government affects the women of this book in ways I could never have imagined.  Nafisi struggles to balance her desire to go on living with her desire to symbolically flip off the Republic.  Is it better to withdraw from an oppressive society or comply with it in the hopes of making a change?  How much can you allow yourself to compromise, morally, in order to survive? Meanwhile her students, who barely remember a time before the Islamic Republic, are unsure as to what roles religion, love, sex, family, and work should play in their lives.  One woman feels that the regime has robbed her of her religion, even though her sect is in power, because wearing a chador is no longer a symbol of her beliefs and devotion to God - it is required.  I won't describe the students in any further detail, though, because Nafisi's portraits of each "girl," as she calls them, are one of the best parts of this book and I'm not going to spoil that.
     This review has turned into an enraptured rant.  Why do I always do this??  I can't help it - good books make me emotional :P  This memoir is about how something as private and small as reading novels can be rebellion in its purest form, and if you read it, you'll have wild, complicated thoughts for days.

     - Carly

Comments

  1. Carly - I love your review. Is the book free for me to read.

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

Thank you for talking to me!! I wish you lots of good books and brownies!

Popular posts from this blog

Best Reading from my First Semester

Ok, my only excuse for this long-ass hiatus is that I started college, and what with exams, essays, friends, newfound independence, and minor dramas, I nearly forgot I had a blog until this week.
But I'm back now, and here to tell you about the best books and stories I read during my last semester.

Novels
1. Citizen: An American Epic by Claudia Ward - A multi-media masterpiece about modern racism, with a particular focus on microaggressions.
2. Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward - The story of a young girl coming of age in an impoverished area of Mississippi, on the brink of one of the great natural disasters of the last decade.
3. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison - A classic allegory of the racial justice movement in America.
4. Beloved by Toni Morrison - Possibly my favorite book ever, Beloved is based on the story of Margaret Garner, a woman who escaped slavery with her children and, when recapture seemed inevitable, killed her children to their being returned to slavery.
Shor…

Book Review: The Spanish American Short Story, edited by Seymour Menton

I love the cover of this book.  Look closely - it's a little skeleton man clasping his hands over a cup of black coffee.  I don't know what it means, but it's delightful.      Anyway, I read this collection of short stories in Spanish - El cuento hispanoamericano - for a class I am taking this semester, but it is also available in English.  According to my professor, it's a unique book in that it offers the best representation of Latin American short stories throughout modern history, with details about literary movements and authors as well.  I liked some stories better than others - "The Tree" by Maria Luisa Bombal and "The Ruby" by Ruben Dario were my favorites - but even the ones I disliked, such as "Secret Love" by Manuel Payno, were included because they were representative of a certain movement or regional style that was worth acknowledging.        My only issue with this book is that a story I just mentioned, "The Tree,&…

Book Review: The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje

Beautiful writing and intensity of feeling were the major traits of this novel.  It is set in an abandoned Italian villa after World War II.  The villa is inhabited by a Canadian nurse, Hana, and a war patient whose entire body has been burned black.  Hana has chosen to nurse him alone rather than return home.  The patient is erudite and appears to be English.  Two other men, an Italian thief and a Sikh sapper, stumble upon and move in with them eventually.
     These five characters slowly reveal the traumas of their lives to one another.  But the most captivating story of all is that of the English patient, who narrates in bits and pieces his life in the desert and the love affair that changed it.  The speaking style of the patient is tense, intimate, and precise.  For example, while at the edge of a great loss, he "feels that everything is missing from his body, feels he contains smoke.  All that is alive is the knowledge of future desire and want" (157). This descr…