08 May 2004


Vladimir Nabokov
Hardcover: 366 pages
Publisher: Everyman's Library (March 9, 1993)

I owe my sudden interest in Nabokov to the autobiography, Reading Lolita in Tehran, a five star book that I`ve just recently finished. It's author, Nafisi, has a great deal of respect and admiration for the works of Nabokov. Her enthusiasm made me feel that I must be missing out on something good, and I decided to cure that posthaste. Lolita, being his best-known, seemed the logical starting point.

From the first paragraph I was smitten with Nabokov. He writes seamlessly, brilliantly, seductively. The depth of my admiration of Nabokov's literary skills continue to grow as I continued to read. This despite, or perhaps actually because of, the subject matter.

I'll take a small aside here to say that I do not feel that novels should be held morally responsible. I read death and violence and many of the other Seven Deadly Sins as much as anyone else--after all, I love a good mystery. Notwithstanding that view, I was still uncomfortable with Humburt's flagrant disregard of what is to me an unquestionable wrong--the violation of a child.

As I said, I love a good mystery, and yet I don't like to read from the point of view of the villain himself. I find it unsettling. I felt the same way being inside the mind of Humbert: disturbed, disgusted, perhaps even tainted. Such strong emotions conjured up solely by the power of Nabokov's persuasive writing. What higher compliment can I pay him?

So troubled was I by Humbert's treatment of Lolita, by the sway he held over me the reader, that I stopped half-way through the novel, saying I just couldn't finish it. But I had to. Despite my revulsion of Humbert, I HAD to continue reading. Nabokov had me so firmly in his grip that I was genuinely concerned for Lolita. I had to know what happened to this child robbed of her childhood. I had to know if she, who Humbert so causally dismissed as seducer instead of seduced, would be free of his tyranny. I had to know if Lolita, only seen through Humbert's eyes, would find a voice of her own.

I can't say that I "liked" this book--how could I enjoy reading about such merciless victimization?--but I can certainly say that Nabokov has won another fan.


07 May 2004

Reading Lolita in Tehran

Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi

Nafisi has written not an autobiography, but a story of her love affair with certain books and authors. She divides her life into four important phases, and the four books or authors that influenced her during that time in her life. It is a mix of personal memories, important moments in Iranian history, what she was reading at the time and how it colored her impressions.

She begins with what would be the next-to-the-last sequentially, the start of her home class and the reading of Lolita. That Nafisi is an excellent literature professor shines through from the beginning. She doesn't merely mention the books, she discusses them, as though with a class, discussing plot, characters, details, meaning. I, who had never been interested in Lolita or Nabokov, became convinced of his worth solely due to her enthusiasm and passion for his works.

She follows with the Iranian revolution and the subsequent "trial" of Gatsby in her classroom. Henry James accompanies the times following the revolution, the war with Iraq, her feelings of uselessness and her return to teaching. She ends with Jane Austen, more about her home class, how she ended up in America and where all her "girls" are now.

Though this could have easily been a depressing book, about life in Iran, it is not. Instead, Nafisi has written about the beauty and hope of the novel, how it affected her and how she wanted it to affect her students.

Nafisi is a kindred spirit to all us ardent bibliophiles. She expresses in words the passion, exhilaration and transfiguration I often feel during and after reading a novel and has lit a fire in me to re-read several classics she mentioned. This is definitely a five star book!