‘Reading Lolita in Teheran’ by Azar Nafisi

I have never been to Iran. Yet, I have.

There’s a good chance this is the first book my personal book advisor (aka book-guru) has given me and, just like always, she hit the nail on the head and made me fall in love.

I liked ‘Reading Lolita in Teheran’ so much that I even used it for my A-Levels exam (a Maturity Test, as we like to call it in Italy, with a certain amount of sarcasm most of the times), where my dissertation, so to speak, was about the relationship between Intellectuals and Power.

I found the book fitting the theme particularly well: Azar Nafisi was a professor at the University of Teheran. Then the Iranian revolution came and she didn’t quite agree with some of the new rules. So she rebelled.

She taught to her students about ‘The Great Gatsby’ and ‘Huckleberry Finn’, on the background of a restless country, where a revolution against the Shah and the Pahlavi dynasty was in the making.

She explored the universe of Henry James, with stories like ‘Daisy Miller’ and ‘Washington Square’, while Iran slowly turned into an Islamic theocracy and the country went into war against Iraq.

She gathered seven of her most committed female students and started a secret book club to allow them to discuss works like ‘Lolita’ and ‘A Thousand and One Night’, while bombs were falling on the city and the entire world seemed to be conspiring against their freedom.

She introduced these women to Jane Austen and her ideas about marriage, having them reading ‘Pride and Prejudice‘ and ‘Emma’, strongly challenging the Shari’a law.

As I said already, Azar Nafisi had a tendency to not follow the rules. So it is that in 1997 she left Iran for good to find a new home in the U.S.A.

Young as I was when I read this, it didn’t just shed light on Iranian history, but it also brought to my attention – to my heart’s attention) such books as I wouldn’t have been able to appreciate otherwise.

Apart from Jane Austen, of course. I knew her well already (see the post about ‘Pride and Prejudice‘).

Not only this.

This is a story of women that simply “weren’t allowed”, but who showed their tongue to the unjust institutions, put on their burka to hide the colourful lingerie and went on doing anyway.

It’s a story of intellectual with a gag on their mouth, who find a better way to talk than words.

Terribly empowering. Also, it’s brilliantly written. The kind of book that still gives me shivers.

For other book suggested by my book guru, you can check out ‘The Corrections‘ and ‘Freedom‘ by Jonathan Franzen, ‘If you Follow Me‘ by Malena Watrous, ‘The Awakening‘ by Kate Chopin, ‘Ghana Must Go‘ by Taiye Selasi, ‘The Orphan Master’s Son‘ by Adam Johnson, ‘Shantaram‘ by Gregory David Roberts, ‘Just Kids‘ by Patti Smith.

And of course you can visit her lovely website The Artist’s Room, and her own article ‘Azar Nafisi and the Subversive Power of Literature‘.




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