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!



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