READING LOLITA IN TEHRAN:
Random House, 2003
Reviewed by Susan Conatser
Azar Nafisi resigned as a professor at Tehran University in 1995 and began meeting secretly with seven young women for a private study group in her home. The group included her former students, with whom she met for two years to discuss forbidden works of Western literature –Lolita, The Great Gatsby and Pride and Prejudice, to list a few.
Interspersed among the book discussions, Nafisi recounts her early years of teaching in Tehran. She recalls how the university was purged of Western influences by radical Islamist, the troublesome times in 1980 when the revolution in Iran brought the Ayatollah Khomenini into power, and the American hostage crisis. She details the many changes in her culture, including the restrictions the morality guards imposed on women.
READING LOLITA IN TEHRAN is much more than a personal memoir – it is a powerful chronicle of the changes the Iranian Revolution brought to the lives of this group, and a book discussion of great works of literature. Readers will see several works of literature through new eyes and come away with a broader experience because Nafisi has allowed you to sit in on these secret meetings. A glimpse into the lives of the members of the study group – Azin "the wild one," Mitra the artist, and Mashshid, called "my lady," the conservative of the group, is the most fascinating aspect of this story. Personally, I would have enjoyed seeing more of them and less of the Western literature.
This memoir unfolds in a slow but even pace. I wasn't that familiar with all the works of literature and I found it necessary to look up a synopsis on a few of the books as I read. Nafisi was very careful in her political comments about the revolution and Iran, which isn't really surprising. She leaves readers to draw their own conclusions on that subject. If you love reading books, you will come away from this one with a new sense of gratitude for the freedom to enjoy them.
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