Azar Nafis – Reading Lolita in Tehran
4.5 out of 5
The reason why I became interested in this book is that it deals with literature and literary criticism. I hoped Nafisi would give me an impression of how western literature is perceived in an Islamic country. Did I get what I wanted? Yes! And I got even more.
Most books can teach the reader a thing or two; and I absolutely think that you can take away something valuable/interesting/fun/thought-provoking from every book you read. However, it has been a long long time since a book has managed to convey to me this much information about a topic that was fairly new to me.
Call me ignorant, but all I really knew about the 1980’s revolution and the war in Iran came from watching “Argo” in 2012. So the moment I connected my experience of this movie with “Reading Lolita in Tehran” something shifted. It was like a part of a puzzle falling into place (“So THIS is what’s going on here!”). The last novel that has taught me that much about the history, politics, and culture of a country was Rushdie’s “Midnight’s Children”. And even though Nafisi’s book is not a novel as such it does follow a narrative. Where Rushdie’s novel mixes fact with fiction to form a plot encompassing decades, Nafisi manages to tell the (life) stories of people that were in some way or other important to her. I love how she mixes these stories with political events, cultural history, and her very own interpretations of some of the greatest literary classics.
My only point of criticism is the way she structured her narrative. I have no objection to how she used authors as points of orientation (starting with Nabokov, ending with Austen); it’s just that while reading I sometimes couldn’t place where we were on the timeline of the story. The middle part which deals with the actual war between Iran and Irak had me completely at a loss as to when the aforementioned Thursday morning classes with “her girls” took place. I felt like sometimes I could have used a signpost (like a date or year at the beginning of each chapter) just to make sure at which point we were in the big picture of it all.
But apart from this small point of criticism I loved “Reading Lolita in Tehran”.
If you’re interested in the role of women in Islamic culture or feminism in general, or if you’d like to read about literary criticism in the face of censorship or simply would like to know more about the events occuring in the 1980s in Tehran, this book is for you!
Plus: it’s a highly readable account of Nafisi’s life.