"Reading Lolita in Tehran" by Azar Nafisi
Classic Book of the Month: June
Out of many books which detail the oppression of a government regime, this one has to have the best extended metaphors there are. It is a book which details a nonfiction account of the author's own time in Iran from the time of the revolution all the way to her departure in 1997. Her refusal to wear the veil in 1979 got her expelled from teaching at the University of Tehran and her resignation from a further university in the 90s helped her formation of a book club which read books that considered the oppression of people held against their will by a government who did not respect their views and opinions, they also considered the problem that her own government had with women.
These books included but are not limited to: Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov, Invitation to a Beheading - also by Nabokov, The One Thousand and One Nights and also books like The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. This book club lasted from 1995 through to 1997.
The book is split into four different sections which consider different parts of the book club and the author's own life. For instance, the first part is entitled Lolita in which it details the creation of the private book club that includes the literature students: Mahshid, Yassi, Mitra, Nassrin, Azin, Sanaz and Manna.
Each section seems to start in a different place as well. Where Lolita starts from the author's resignation from the second university, the chapter Gatsby starts eleven years before, during the revolution. It details how the book The Great Gatsby gets banned for condoning adultery. It is a representation of an oppressive government seeing as literature would need to be banned to keep people in line. Also, the works of Mike Gold are discussed in this part in order to put things into better perspective.
The chapter James takes place when the war begins and details the reading of Henry James novels such as Daisy Miller and Washington Square. The theme of oppression is becoming more and more full as the author witnesses people go to jail for holding different beliefs than that of the most powerful regime that is now winning the war. The author becomes more and more disillusioned with the party in power.
The chapter Austen details how the author eventually left Iran and the regime for another place, but not before discussing important advice with her book club students with Pride and Prejudice used for ideas of empathy, oppression and ideas surrounding love.
I first read Reading Lolita in Tehran whilst I was studying my Bachelor's Degree and I'm going to be perfectly honest with you, it wasn't the idea of the book that attracted me, it was the title. I found the title so dangerous and strange that I had to pick it up and read it, I had never even heard of it before. It was a book that really captured the true dangers of oppression through belief and gender-based violence. For me, it was an eye-opener on to how forceful the regime really was and how much these regimes damage the idea of freedom of thought. With the main themes of oppression, blindness and gender, I feel like Azar Nafisi's book is basically a call to free thinking at a time when that is so meticulously guarded as being a form of revolution without violence.
I have returned to this book since and it has always been a similar experience for me. The sheer shock of watching these people read books that have been banned or shunned by the regime in power comes to define the very special idea of the book - that you can never ban free will.
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Film and Writing (M.A)
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