Wednesday 21 May 2014

Nafisi, Azar "Reading Lolita in Tehran"

Nafisi, Azar "Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books" - 2003 

A beautifully written memoir about a dark time. It is not just a book about different books and a class discussing them, it is a precise account of a country turning from modern times into the past, taking away the human rights of half of their population, something that happens all over this world.

We can learn about Azar Nafisi's life as a professor/teacher before the revolution, her life during the Iran/Iraq war and also about the different cultures of the East and the West.

We also get to know all the students, she introduces them to us, their character and their troubles. I would have like to meet all of them.

I have not read even half of the books she discussed with her students but I can say about those that I have read that she did a great job with her descriptions and the discussions they brought in that country far away both in time and distance from the classic books. I will certainly put quite a few of those listed on my wish list.

From the back cover:

"In Iran in the late 90s, Azar Nafisi and seven young women – her former students – gathered at her house every Thursday to discuss forbidden works of Western literature. Shy and uncomfortable at first, they soon began to open up, not only about the novels they were reading but also about their own dreams and disappointments. Their personal stories intertwine with those they are reading – Pride and Prejudice, The Great Gatsby, and Lolita – in this rare glimpse of women's lives in revolutionary Iran. A work of great passion and beauty, it is an uplifting account of quiet resistance in the face of repression."

And here is a list of all the books the author discussed with her students:

al-Radi, Nuha "Baghdad Diaries"
Atwood, Margaret "The Blind Assassin"
Austen, Jane "Emma", "Mansfield Park", "Pride and Prejudice
Bellow, Soul "The Dean's December" and "More Die of Heartbreak"
Brontë, Emily "Wuthering Heights"
Carroll, Lewis "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland"
Conrad, Joseph "Under Western Eyes"
Fielding, Henry "Shamela" and "Tom Jones"
Fitzgerald, F. Scott "The Great Gatsby
Flaubert, Gustave "Madame Bovary"
Frank, Anne "The Diary of Anne Frank
James, Henry "The Ambassadors, "Daisy Miller" and "Washington Square
Kafka, Franz "In the Penal Colony" and "The Trial"
Melville, Herman "The Confidence-Man"
Nabokov, Vladimir "Lolita", "Invitation to a Beheading" and "Pnin" 
Orne Jewett, Sarah "The Country of the Pointed Firs"
Pezeshkzad, Iraj "My Uncle Napoleon"
Ravitch, Diane "The Language Police"
Salamon, Julie "The Net of Dreams"
Satrapi, Marjae "Persepolis"
Scheherazade "A Thousand and One Nights"
Sebald, W.G. "The Emigrants"
Shields, Carol "The Stone Diaries"
Skvorecky, Josef "The Engineer of Human Souls"
Spark, Muriel "Loitering with Intent" and "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie"
Svevo, Italo "Confessions"
Taylor, Katherine Kressman "Address Unknown"
Taylor, Peter "A Summons to Memphis"
Twain, Mark "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn"
Tyler, Anne "Back When We Were Grownups" and "St. Maybe"
Vargas Llosa, Mario "Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter


  1. Glad you liked it too, can't imagine living in a country like that. I too have read about half of the books, she did an incredible job of teaching them, what I would have given for a professor like that when I was in college. In my literature classes I generally had ok professors, but fellow students who only read because they had to, not because they loved it.

  2. Oh, Janet, I don't think I could either. But I can understand when people don't want to leave, they have their whole family there.

    And I know the feeling about reading. I think if you study something that has to do with literature you might get more students who really love reading but other than that ...

    I was able to pass on my love for reading to my children. My oldest son, for example, when he was at playgroup, the teachers said they just had to look into the book corner and he would be sitting there waiting for the story. and his sixth grade teacher once said she planned a book party where the kids could bring a cushion and a book but she had the suspicion only my son was going to enjoy it.

    It's a good thing that we can read on and on during adulthood, what a treasure.

    Have a good weekend,