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Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi

Reading Lolita in Tehran

I was so happy to see my reading group this Sunday. It’s been 2 months (too long!) since we last met. We yakked and yakked about our lives and the book even though “time was up”. I realise that I always look forward to Sunday reading group sessions. I am so lucky to have a group of good friends in Paris. Life is so much more pleasurable, so much more fun with these women.

The book spotlight this month is Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi. In a nutshell, the book is a memoir by Nafisi, the daughter of a former mayor of pre-revolutionary Tehran. Nafisi returned to Iran in 1979 after her studies in the USA, months before the Iranian revolution began. Nafisi taught English literature for several years until she refused to wear the veil and resigned from a teaching post at the University of Tehran. The book chronicles the personal stories and lives of a hand-picked group of 7 female students between 1995 and 1997. They attended secret literature classes every Thursday at Nafisi’s house and read Lolita by Nabokov, The Great Gatsby by Scott Fitzgerald, Daisy Miller by Henry James and Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.

I can’t say that I “enjoyed” reading this book. The story is well written and well-documented, but it left me with a feeling of despair and hopelessness. It wasn’t easy to get through the parts in the Lolita section, where the legal age for marriage for an Iranian girl then was nine to men old enough to be her father. How can one justify robbing a young girl of life, of hope? It wasn’t easy reading about the lives of the women, especially about “having sex with [men] you loathe”, nor the boy who set himself on fire. As someone who has fought hard to get out of the traditional Chinese “mould” of what is expected of me, I felt really trapped by their situation.

I couldn’t help but wonder if “the magician” is real or imagined… is he one person or many persons combined? How did these women live? What were their daily lives like? I tried so hard not to imagine what I would have done in their shoes. I think I will go mad.

What I did enjoy is coming closer to the women in my group, while we talked about the other women in “Reading Tehran”. It was a real pleasure to get to know each one of my woman friends. And I am thankful I am in Paris. There are worse places to be in.

Our next book for November is Lo-lee-ta by Nabokov.


had started reading lolita and just searched blogs on the keyword.
liked your review here :)

Bland Spice: Thanks for your nice comment! Look forward to hearing from you again.

My book club read this too ... lots of great discussion, for sure ... and real insight into a place the world should know more about.

Apparently, after the book was published, Iranian women were asked what they thought of the book... and most Iranian women didn't read it or want to read it, as the next revolution happened in 1999, a few months after Nafisi left for the US. The world in which Nafisi lived in and described was different. Unfortunately, things are taking another wrong turn today...

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