Reading Lolita In Tehran is a unique, delightful reading experience. It was a major bestseller in the last decade, back when publishers were still taking chances. How I came about this book is proof that synchronicity is a bigger part of our lives than we admit. That experience combined with the reading puts this book in a special category for me.
A couple of months ago I was walking through a little mall and outside the library located there was a table where they sold old books from the library to raise funds. The library is in disarray and so their table is quite the experience at times. I was on the verge of moving and the last thing I needed was another book to pack. However, being the book lover I am, I had to at least stop and browse.
The book was in “new” condition. Really, it was practically flawless. I opened it up, $1 in pencil told me the price. Okay, one more item to squeeze into the bin for the storage shed.
Turns out, a couple weeks later, I unexpectedly had a piece to write about Iran so I put it on my list of background material to read before writing. Oh, was I so glad I did!
The book is broken into four sections: Lolita, Gatsby, (Henry) James, (Jane) Austen. These are writers/books taught by Azar Nafisi in her classes and when she held a private reading group in her home after she left the university when she refused to wear a veil for class. The reading group was all women and by special invite only.
The story is two-fold. Nafisi proves herself one of the ultimate book lovers. She picked apart Lolita and James like no one else I have ever seen. You’re going to walk away from this book having really explored literature like few people do. I mean that not just in an academic sense but she does a great job of applying those lessons to our lives and more importantly for the story’s sake, the lives of her students.
The second plot tracks life in Iran itself. You are going to get a first-hand look – and this is really very rare – of how life is in Iran before and after the 1979 revolution. You feel like in these pages you are in the lives of these women, suffering right along with them. And there is true suffering. They experience the lost of their freedom such as moving about freely or wearing what they want and some of them end up in prison where you see how the Islamic Revolution ended for those who clung to moderation. At times, this is a heart-wrenching read. Then again, aren’t those often the best kind?
Because of the title, Lolita gets the most play in conversation about this book. Truth is, I think I enjoyed the section on Fitzgerald and Gatsby the most. When the merits of Gatsby was challenged by ardent followers of the Revolution, Nafisi did the unexpected, she put the book on trial in front of her class with students doing the prosecution and defense. Easy to say a book should be banned, quite a different matter to prove it.
Nafisi made her mark wherever she ventured and that influence is felt on the pages of this book. Whether you are a literature fanatic, only looking for a unusual and fantastic read, or wanting to learn about life in Iran, then I highly recommend this book. If you can find it for a buck on a table outside your library, then all the better.