Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books was not the kind of book that I thought it would be. I assumed that it would be the story of the girls that got together to read every Thursday, and that the mention of Lolita in the title was for shock value, since it’s such a controversial book. I should have taken the subtitle (A Memoir in Books) more seriously, since I think it is a great description. The book is Azar Nafisi’s memoir, which includes the story of her Thursday morning classes, and a healthy dose of literary analysis.
Azar Nafisi went from a revolutionary Iranian student in the U.S. to being a professor of English literature at the University of Tehran just after the revolution. She describes how the revolution changed Iran and herself, using liberal comparisons and allusions to the works of Vladimir Nabokov, Henry James and Jane Austen and The Great Gatsby. She is extremely frank about her life, even about her initial naivete and her constant confusion about her life.
Once I’d gotten over my expectations of what the book was going to be, I started to enjoy the book. It was still pretty slow reading; I couldn’t focus on the book for long stretches. I think it was because of a few reasons. The first is that life under the Iranian regime sounded very tough, and I couldn’t take reading about it for too long. Secondly, Nafisi’s writing is very poetic, but also quite disjointed and jumps around a lot. Third, she was analysing a few books I hadn’t read, and it seemed a bit dense to me. None of these reasons is a bad thing, of course.
I think that Nafisi’s way of writing really describes her very well – she frequently mentions being confused about what actions to take next and how to counsel her students, and her writing reflects that. She jumps between different time periods and between her interactions with different people. Her constant allusion to books, passages, quotes, characters, etc. was also really interesting – it is clear that she is a professor of literature through and through. As a person who has read a lot but has never taken a college English class, I found those sections of the book fascinating.
I would have liked to read Henry James’ books and The Great Gatsby before reading this one, since they’re now fully spoiled for me. I would’ve gotten a lot more out of the analyses. I did enjoy the analysis of Lolita, and was disappointed that the “Austen” section didn’t really talk much about her books.
This is book 17 of 25 of my Dec 11, 2011 book challenge.
Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi
Random House, 2003 | Buy the book