Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi


20161007_185518“A novel is not an allegory . . . It is the sensual experience of another world. If you don’t enter that world, hold your breath with the characters and become involved in their destiny, you won’t be able to empathize, and empathy is at the heart of the novel.” (p. 111)

From the subtitle: A Memoir in Books, this book would seem to be about someone’s life in books–and it is, but it is more. This is a book about a book club, about a country, a culture, about women, and about civil rights.

Azar Nafisi is a professor of literature and is passionate about teaching and sharing literature with her students. However, being a woman professor in Iran proves difficult when revolution begins in Iran with Islamic fundamentalists taking over the universities and “morality squads” are everywhere looking for anything that might be tainted by the West.

When Nafisi is eventually expelled for refusing to wear the veil on campus and in her classroom, she decides to invite seven young women to come to her home once a week to discuss literature. While recounting the story of the young women and the books they discuss, Nafisi also tells of Iran–its cultural and political upheavals and how these effect the lives of these women and their families.

The events in this book begins in the 70’s and goes through the 90’s. As a young person in the 70’s and 80’s, I had heard of some of these events as one hears the news about people far away. But I only vaguely knew where Iran is located and could not tell you the difference between that country and Iraq. So, for me, this was a history and a geography lesson, as well as a look into the lives of others who love literature.

“Banned Books Week” was recently celebrated? and the events in this book made real to me the idea of books being banned and one’s reading being carefully scrutinized. Sometimes with the “I read banned books” t-shirts, it seems we don’t take this possibility very seriously, but for many people it is very real and not ancient history. There are people in the world who are not free to read the books they might choose, so let’s never take for granted our opportunities to read. Read a book! For fun!