Reading Lolita in Tehran – Azar Nafisi

20161118_115832Glossing over the fact I skipped a day whoopsie daisy, I come to you today with yet another monologue on the wonderful Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi. I spotted this book on the Rory Gilmore Reading Challenge, got intrigued by the title, did some research and decided to ask for it for my birthday.

Why? Because this book literally has the most intriguing concept ever. It tells you the story of the Iranian Revolution through literary criticism. There’s books, there’s feminism, there’s politics and the Middle East- all of it wrapped up in one handy-dandy memoir. I was so sold.

Azar Nafisi is a English literature scholar, who for a long time (spanning the period of the Iranian and the Cultural Revolution) taught at different Tehran universities. When, inevitably, she ceases to be an official professor because of, let’s say, cultural differences, she started a bookclub in her own living room, inviting some former (female!) students to discuss banned works of English literature with her.

And so it starts. Nafisi takes the discussions she has with her students, naturally always shaped by the world around them, to build a much bigger narrative of Iranian politics and female existence, and she does it beautifully in my opinion.

This is, however, not a quick introduction to the Iranian Revolution. It is very much heavy-duty literary criticism. That’s just what happens when bookish scholar-ly people write memoirs (compare Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit), and I can’t deny that Nafisi goes off on several tangents in this. But they’re just all so great!

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I’ll say this though. There definitely is a Required Reading with this memoir. If you really, truly want to get it (not to talk of the spoilers…), you probably should read Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Henry James’ Daisy Miller and Nabokov’s Lolita as well as Invitation to a Beheading, which sure is a lot.

But hands down, I have only completely read Gatsby and most of Pride and Prejudice out of that list, and I still got so much from this book. If nothing else, this will once again remind you how books are there in the worst of times to carry one through. Because Nafisi dissects books in this, she writes pages and pages of literary analysis, but she also just indulges in gobbling up good books, ’cause that’s what you do.

This is a very intelligent book on literature, and I think it’s a quite good one on Iranian politics. But it’s also a love letter to books and why they matter, and an intelligent reflection on feminism and women in the Middle East by someone who actually knows their shit.
So yes. I would highly suggest you go read it soon. Just prepare for some rather annoying classics spoilers, Nabokov in particular. Or just read him first. He’s Vladimir freakin’ Nabokov after all.

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