Every Thursday morning for two years in the Islamic Republic of Iran, Azar Nafisi, a bold and inspired teacher, secretly gathered seven of her most committed female students to read forbidden Western classics. Some came from conservative and religious families, others were progressive and secular; some had spent time in jail. They were shy and uncomfortable at first, unaccustomed to being asked to speak their minds, but soon they removed their veils and began to speak more freely–their stories intertwining with the novels they were reading by Jane Austen, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Henry James, and Vladimir Nabokov. As Islamic morality squads staged arbitrary raids in Tehran, as fundamentalists seized hold of the universities and a blind censor stifled artistic expression, the women in Nafisi’s living room spoke not only of the books they were reading but also about themselves, their dreams and disappointments.
Azar Nafisi’s luminous masterwork gives us a rare glimpse, from the inside, of women’s lives in revolutionary Iran. ‘Reading Lolita in Tehran’ is a work of great passion and poetic beauty, a remarkable exploration of resilience in the face of tyranny, and a celebration of the liberating power of literature.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this. I have previously read Nafisi’s other memoir ‘Things I’ve Been Silent About’, and both give such an insight into a country and a world we have such preconceived ideas about.
The relationships that develop between these young women are really touching to read – their freedoms are slowly diminishing, but at their lecturer’s house they find a space to speak freely about their experiences and be themselves and to express their feelings and frustrations at the limitations being placed upon their lives through the books they study. It’s a real testament to the power that reading can have.
The book also gives an insight into Nafisi’s own life and her struggles; she also resents the fact that her freedoms are being diminished and sees the effect that living under the Islamic Republic is having on her children. But Iran is her home, and is the country she loves, so she is torn between staying and fighting it out, or leaving, and reclaiming her freedoms and rights in another country. Her frustration at what is happening to her home is clear and honestly portrayed.
It’s a sobering look too at the way that freedoms are slowly destroyed, so slowly and insidiously that it is easy to be carried along with them. Nafisi refuses at first to wear the veil, but to continue to refuse eventually means losing her job. Is it worth it?, she asks herself. What’s more important, to maintain her right over what she can or can’t wear, or to continue to teach and to have a positive influence over her students? It is these little decisions that the ordinary people have to make, seemingly small decisions that can have massive repercussions.
The books that are studied also have a central role to play, and anyone who has read the works discussed will find new things to discover, a new way to see and read these classics.
It’s a brilliant book, clever, touching, frustrating at times and also strangely uplifting.