The inspirational tale of eight women who defied the confines of life in revolutionary Iran through the joy and power of literature.
'That room for all of us, became a place of transgression. What a wonderland it was! Sitting around the large coffee table covered with bouquets of flowers … We were, to borrow from Nabokov, to experience how the ordinary pebble of ordinary life could be transformed into a jewel through the magic eye of fiction.'
For two years before she left Iran in 1997, Azar Nafisi gathered seven young women at her house every Thursday morning to read and discuss forbidden works of Western literature. They were all former students whom she had taught at university. Some came from conservative and religious families, others were progressive and secular; several had spent time in jail. Shy and uncomfortable at first, they soon began to open up and speak more freely, not only about the novels they were reading but also about themselves, their dreams and disappointments. Their stories intertwined with those they were reading – ‘Pride and Prejudice’, ‘Washington Square’, ‘Daisy Miller’ and ‘Lolita’ – their Lolita, as they imagined her in Tehran. Nafisi's account flashes back to the early days of the revolution when she first started teaching at the University of Tehran amid the swirl of protests and demonstrations. In those frenetic days, the students took control of the university, expelled faculty members and purged the curriculum.
Azar Nafisi's luminous tale offers a fascinating portrait of the Iran-Iraq war viewed from Tehran and gives us a rare glimpse, from the inside, of women's lives in revolutionary Iran. It is a work of great passion and poetic beauty, written with a startlingly original voice.
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An inspired blend of memoir and literary criticism, Reading Lolita in Tehran is a moving testament to the power of art and its ability to change and improve people's lives. In 1995, after resigning from her job as a professor at a university in Tehran due to its repressive policies, Azar Nafisi invited seven of her best female students to attend a weekly study of great Western literature in her home. Since the books they read were officially banned by the government, the women were forced to meet in secret, often sharing photocopied pages of the illegal novels.
For two years they met to talk, share and "shed their mandatory veils and robes and burst into color". Though most of the women were shy and intimidated at first, they soon became emboldened by the forum and used the meetings as a springboard for debating the social, cultural and political realities of living under strict Islamic rule. They discussed their harassment at the hands of "morality guards," the daily indignities of living under Ayatollah Khomeini's regime, the effects of the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s, love, marriage and life in general, giving readers a rare inside look at revolutionary Iran. The books were always the primary focus, however and they became "essential to our lives: they were not a luxury but a necessity", she writes.
Threaded into the memoir are trenchant discussions of the work of Vladimir Nabokov, F Scott Fitzgerald, Jane Austen and other authors who provided the women with examples of those who successfully asserted their autonomy despite great odds. The great works encouraged them to strike out against authoritarianism and repression in their own ways, both large and small: "There, in that living room, we rediscovered that we were also living, breathing human beings; and no matter how repressive the state became, no matter how intimidated and frightened we were, like Lolita we tried to escape and to create our own little pockets of freedom." In short, the art helped them to survive. --Shawn Carkonen, Amazon.comReview:
'Through her tales of discussing Henry James and Nabokov over cream cakes and coffee, we get a highly unusual insight into the youth of society about which we know little.' Sunday Times, Book of the Year
'Anyone who has ever belonged to a book group must read this book…It is at once a celebration of the power of the novel and a cry of outrage at the reality in which these women are trapped. The Ayatollahs don't know it, but Nafisi is one of the heroes of the Islamic Republic.' Geraldine Brooks
'I was enthralled and moved by Azar Nafizi's account of how she defied, and helped others to defy, radical Islam's war against women. Her memoir contains important and properly complex reflections about the ravages of theocracy, about thoughtfulness, and about the ordeals of freedom – as well as a stirring account of the pleasures and deepening of consciousness that result from an encounter with great literature and with an inspired teacher.' Susan Sontag
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Book Description Haper Perennial, 2007. Paperback. Book Condition: New. book. Bookseller Inventory # 000724178X