Reading Lolita in Tehran.
In Austin, I had a book club, and the month before I joined, they read Reading Lolita in Tehran. It was a book that was on my list to read and so I was bummed to have missed it, but somehow I never got back to reading the book until now. And boy, is it good timing with the demonstrations in Iran.
This book was so much more than I expected it to be: amazingly well-written, insightful about literature, and illuminating about the change in power in Iran in the early ’80s and the subsequent eight year war with Iraq. Reading it now gave me a much needed understanding of the history of the last twenty years of politics in Iran from an English literature professor’s perspective- as well as a woman’s.
I loved this book on many levels. I found the writing beautiful, insightful, simple and emotional without being tear-jerking. I found it fascinating to read what Nafisi’s book club of students thought of the authors and works they were reading, as well as what their thoughts were of Western culture, and the themes the girls pointed out in the works that might have never occurred to people who were not oppressed. (I was also relieved that Nafisi’s students were smart enough they believed Humphrey Humbert to be an unreliable narrator and did not accuse Lola of seducing him in Lolita, as one of my classmates once did.)
I underlined much more than I thought I was going to with this memoir, and at one point resorted to using post-it flags to mark entire pages I wanted to refer back to. Needless to say, I gave this book 5 stars on GoodReads, and I’m sending a copy to Sonika in her next box o’ books.
A paragraph to keep you, regarding Washington Square by Henry James:
Thus, Dr. Sloper commits the most unforgivable crime in fiction — blindness. Pity is the password, says the poet John Shade in Nabokov’s Pale Fire. This respect for others, empathy, lies at the heart of the novel. It is the quality that links Austen to Flaubert and James to Nabokov and Bellow. This, I believe, is how the villain in modern fiction is born: a creature without compassion, without empathy. The personalized version of good and evil usurps and individualizes the more archetypal concepts, such as courage or heroism, that shaped the epic or romance. A hero becomes one who safeguards his or her individual integrity at almost any cost.