Sunday, September 29, 2013

Reading Lolita in Tehran

by Azar Nafisi
New York : Random House, 2008 (originally published 2003).

Azar Nafisi bookends her memoir with stories of her special class, a group of women who met at her house to talk about texts that were forbidden. Together they read Nabokov and Austen, Gatsby and Daisy Miller. In the middle is Nafisi's memories of involvement in the '70s revolution, teaching in the 1980s and 1990s, and the Islamic Republic taking away more and more freedoms.

I first read this book about ten years ago, and when I was looking for a new audiobook I thought it was a good time for a reread. Since the first time I read the book, my own knowledge of Iran has improved, and I've read another book or two that is covered in the text. There are four parts divided into several chapters; the chronology is confusing at best, and very often Nafisi chooses to forgo quotation marks. This was less noticeable in the audio, when I could tell from the narrator's voice who was talking, but it was frustrating to read. I enjoyed some of Nafisi's and her students' comments about the literature I've read, but now that I'm reasonably sure I won't read the others, I was less enthralled with the books I hadn't read and how she draws parallels or contrasts with her and her students' lives. And really, it was much less about the books than what I remembered. Nafisi writes much more about her personal experiences, and changes information about the students to protect their privacy (an understandable choice, but one which nonetheless kept me wondering what was "made up" and what was "real"). Recommended if you're interested in Iranian memoirs and literary criticism.

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