A Memoir in Books
by Azar Nafisi
Reading Lolita in Tehran is about a group of women in Iran who studied and discussed forbidden books with a university teacher in her home. It doesn't really read like a memoir, and was not what I expected. I was picturing an intimate story about the women's lives and interactions with each other, facilitated by their book group. What I got was a bunch of essays on Vladimir Nabokov, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Henry James and Jane Austen, with asides to Saul Bellow, Herman Melville, Mark Twain, Gustave Flaubert, the Bronte sisters and more; Iranian politics, religion and the oppression of women. Once I let go of my expectations, I did enjoy this book. It gave me a clearer picture of the Iranian perspective and attitudes toward Western culture. I remember thinking to myself at times: well, no wonder they see us that way! (Though I am well aware not all Iranians share the opinons depicted in the book).
My main criticism is that it jumps around a lot, moving from one subject to the next without much warning and going suddenly from the present back to Nafisi's experiences at the beginning of the Revolution. This can get confusing and detract from the focus of the book. Also, it is a bit dry and can make you feel like you're back in school; especially if you are unfamiliar with the books discussed. Due to the many works mentioned in this book, I have added more than a dozen titles to my TBR list, of classic literature I felt guilty for not having read yet!
Rating: 4/5 ........ 356 pages, 2003
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