Customer Reviews for

Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books

Average Rating 3.5
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Most Helpful Favorable Review

12 out of 13 people found this review helpful.

Insightful and wonderfully-written

People have complained about this book for numerous reasons, for everything from Nafisi being a propagandist for the Bush administration to it being too 'boring' for focusing on literary criticism in detail when it should just be a narrative memoir. First...
People have complained about this book for numerous reasons, for everything from Nafisi being a propagandist for the Bush administration to it being too 'boring' for focusing on literary criticism in detail when it should just be a narrative memoir. First of all, this book is a book written by a woman who is passionate about books - in essence, a book about books. Nafisi was a literary professor at a university in Tehran before her expulsion during the ascent of the regime/revolution. Her sobering, first-hand experiences living during the Regime in Iran, coupled with her unquenchable penchant for literature, drove her to write this memoir, and the result is a triumphant weaving of the two - current events in the Middle East and timeless Western literature playing off each other as described by an Iranian woman passionate about freedom, women's rights and¿Western literature. This is hardly propaganda. What it is is a memoir about literature and the powerful joy it brings, even in tumultuous times in the Middle East during bombing raids and wearing the veil mandatorily, and a consequent first-hand look into the lifestyle in such a predicament by an author who, while candid and completely honest in her condemnation of the totalitarian regime she was subjected to, does not once act bitter or caustic about her ordeals, or write about her impressions in a way that is at all manipulative or self-righteous. Any 'human' emotions or a opinions Nafisi does express simply reflect the fact that this is, after all, a memoir - a personal account of things that could be written in otherwise impersonal works (i.e. current events books and literary anthologies). 'Reading Lolita In Tehran' gives us an insight into both famous books and modern politics/history, but through the less-formal account of a woman who, although isn't treating it formally, knows an awful darn lot about both. And she happens to be a really interesting person and a really good writer.

posted by Anonymous on May 27, 2008

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Most Helpful Critical Review

3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

Fails to Meet the Promise

The author has a fascinating story to tell--that of life during the Islarmic Revolution in Iran. The problem is that the editor allowed the author to spend an inordinate amount of time discussing her favorite fiction books and authors. The interesting non...
The author has a fascinating story to tell--that of life during the Islarmic Revolution in Iran. The problem is that the editor allowed the author to spend an inordinate amount of time discussing her favorite fiction books and authors. The interesting non-fiction aspects of her life were relegated to second place status in the book. I found this disappointing book to be a slow and boring read.

posted by Anonymous on June 15, 2004

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 27, 2008

    Insightful and wonderfully-written

    People have complained about this book for numerous reasons, for everything from Nafisi being a propagandist for the Bush administration to it being too 'boring' for focusing on literary criticism in detail when it should just be a narrative memoir. First of all, this book is a book written by a woman who is passionate about books - in essence, a book about books. Nafisi was a literary professor at a university in Tehran before her expulsion during the ascent of the regime/revolution. Her sobering, first-hand experiences living during the Regime in Iran, coupled with her unquenchable penchant for literature, drove her to write this memoir, and the result is a triumphant weaving of the two - current events in the Middle East and timeless Western literature playing off each other as described by an Iranian woman passionate about freedom, women's rights and¿Western literature. This is hardly propaganda. What it is is a memoir about literature and the powerful joy it brings, even in tumultuous times in the Middle East during bombing raids and wearing the veil mandatorily, and a consequent first-hand look into the lifestyle in such a predicament by an author who, while candid and completely honest in her condemnation of the totalitarian regime she was subjected to, does not once act bitter or caustic about her ordeals, or write about her impressions in a way that is at all manipulative or self-righteous. Any 'human' emotions or a opinions Nafisi does express simply reflect the fact that this is, after all, a memoir - a personal account of things that could be written in otherwise impersonal works (i.e. current events books and literary anthologies). 'Reading Lolita In Tehran' gives us an insight into both famous books and modern politics/history, but through the less-formal account of a woman who, although isn't treating it formally, knows an awful darn lot about both. And she happens to be a really interesting person and a really good writer.

    12 out of 13 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 16, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Educational Treasure for Young Women

    This book is beautifully written in the intimacy of Azar Nafisi's literary book club. The club is composed by seven Muslim women that just like Nafisi, open their heart and invite the reader to take a step into their life in the Islamic world. Each week they come into Nafisi's house unveiling their faces and freeing themselves from the restrictions of their society by reading and discussing tabooed subjects. In a sense, they find an escape to their real life problems in the fictitious plots of literary classics. It invites women of all ages around the world, to seek comfort for their own problems by submerging themselves in epic novels while standing up for their rights. This memoir is an example of how literature can help us heal the wound of our past and how important it is to defend freedom of expression.

    As a high school student, I consider this novel to be a great educational treasure. Not only does it create conscience on the empowerment of women and invites us to believe in gender equality, but it also teaches us about the different cultures and political issues in today's world. At the very same time it is also a book promoting Western literature that introduces us to the stories of each woman by relating it to the plot of classical novels such as The Great Gatsby, Pride & Prejudice and Lolita. As one reads the novel, you become acquainted with each member of the group and have access to their most intimate but important feelings and opinions. I consider that this novel can change the perspective some men have about women, and encourage them to see them as equal.

    Nafisi is a woman to be admired. This book comes from her true life personal experiences in the battle towards spreading her love for knowledge in a restricted world. Reading Lolita in Tehran will touch the emotions of any reader, it will make us cry, laugh, but above all mostly think. For anyone interested in Literature, Politics, Anthropology or that has ever been a book club member it is a must read.

    In my personal experience, the book opened my eyes towards life for women in the Islamic world. Although sometimes I found their experiences to have been heart breaking and intolerable, they also made me respect them much more than I did. I got to know the woman behind the Hijaab (Muslim veil), her culture and her life.

    The only recommendation I would give off when it comes to Reading Lolita in Tehran is that if you have read The Great Gatsby, Pride & Prejudice and Lolita it will be easier for you to understand the full context of the plot. The author constantly related the plots of these books to the experiences of the book club members. However, it is not something necessary. I had not read any of these books except for Pride and Prejudice and really enjoyed the book. Except that at times I wished I knew Lolita by heart to feel as if I understood each and every detail of the book.

    6 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 15, 2004

    Fails to Meet the Promise

    The author has a fascinating story to tell--that of life during the Islarmic Revolution in Iran. The problem is that the editor allowed the author to spend an inordinate amount of time discussing her favorite fiction books and authors. The interesting non-fiction aspects of her life were relegated to second place status in the book. I found this disappointing book to be a slow and boring read.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 11, 2011

    Think Twice Before You Buy

    I guess this would be a pretty good book, if were incredibly politically aware, especially of the entire history of the Middle East, since the 1970's. Also if you don't mind frequent, sudden, confusing switches between time periods. The authorial voice is kind of confusing, because it changes from all-knowing to know-nothing, with no warning. Finally, the sample of this book is misleading, because it starts like it is about a book club of Middle Eastern women, and is really about only the author. I was very disappointed when I discovered this last fact. So be warned!

    2 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 22, 2009

    Every woman - and man - should get into this one.

    Nafisi got me right into the culture and minds and hearts of Iran and the women who live there. For the first time I have true understanding and empathy for their lives. You need to delve deeply to get there, and we owe it to the women all over to the world to do just that. Give it a few chapters and you'll be engrossed!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 30, 2004

    Brilliant, Insightful Memoir

    One of the most brilliant studies of another culture I've ever read. Absolutely captivating account of how powerful words and books are and how (this is only implied, not at all discussed) we Americans take our liberties for granted. Amazing for its lucid, passionate writing and the breadth of Iranian culture it captures. My other favorite memoir of 2003 was 'I Sleep At Red Lights: a True Story of Life After Triplets,' by Bruce Stockler, a warm, funny, revealing look at what it means to be a man and the joys of fatherhood.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 29, 2011

    Compelling read

    I found this book a compelling and easy to read memoir of the war years in Tehran in which the oppression of women occurred. Previously, I was annoyed at women who chose to wear the veil and chador and felt sorry for those who lived in countries where it was necessary. After reading Dr. Nafisi's memoir of those turbulent and traumatic years in Iran, I gained a stronger understanding of the life women were forced to lead there. But more than that, Dr. Nafisi helped me see them as people whom I would be proud to know. I found this book to be gripping in a way that I was unable to put it down. The memoir is written around Dr. Nafisi's teaching of English literature in universities there and her comments on various English novels are used to help the reader understand certain universal truths. The book will definitely allow the reader to see Lolita in a new light.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 12, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Intriguing, but easily put down...

    I recommend this book for advanced readers who are interested in Iranian government during the late 1970s and early 1990s. The beginning is slightly misleading because it talks about a woman's life in Tehran, but the majority of the book talks about the revolution and the war.
    I initially picked up this book because of the title: Reading Lolita in Tehran: a Memoir in Books. Reading is really an outlet for me and a book about books seemed like a new and fantastic option. As I scanned the first few pages I was intrigued because it began by explaining that a university teacher had been expelled for refusing to comply with wardrobe requirements and that she had started a book club that met on Thursdays to discuss none other than literature itself. The group, consisting of female members of the author's university classes, meets to read and confabulate two significant pieces of literature and two authors and their works.
    The novel is set in four parts: Lolita, Gatsby, James, and Austen. The first section, Lolita, introduces the members of the group: Nassrin, Yassi, Azin, Mahshid, Manna, Sanaz, and Mitra; and their personalities. The author, Azar Nafisi, is the narrator and shares the story from her point of view while intelligently including the way she views others, their views, and the literature. When we move into the second section, Gatsby, Nafisi explains the Islamic Revolution and its impact on the universities. Interestingly, two members of one of her university classes have opposing views on The Great Gatsby and it's morality so the class puts the book on "trial." One male, Mr. Nyazi, doesn't want the class to study the novel because he believes that F. Scott Fitzgerald, the author of The Great Gatsby, is encouraging adultery and theft. Nyazi is elected to be the prosecutor. Zarrin, a female acting as Nafisi's lawyer, is in favor of studying the book because while it is immoral to the law with its adultery and theft, it still possesses some moral value. She states in her opposition to Mr. Nyazi's opening statement that a book can be called moral "when it shakes us out of our stupor and makes us confront the absolutes we believe in."
    The third section, James, discusses each character's ability to influence others, such as leaders during the revolution influenced others' thoughts and feelings. The Revolution starts and seeps into the universities causing classes to be cancelled, people to be killed, and restlessness among the students. A war with Iraq is waged and Nafisi finds herself disappearing from the world just as the Iranian government wants her to. They steal her identity by forcing her to wear the veil and to conceal her entire body with severe consequences if she refuses. Ayatollah Khomeini: an extreme leader who viewed the war as a blessing; dies, but, as observed by Nafisi's daughter Negar, is still alive theoretically because Iranian women continue to wear the veil.
    The fourth and final section, Austen, uses Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice to reconnect Nafisi's Thursday classes and their purpose. We learn more about the lives of the women in the class. And we learn that Nafisi finally musters up the courage to leave Tehran for good and travel once again to America. She concludes that living in Tehran is like having sensual relations with a man you despise: "...you make your mind blank- you pretend to be somewhere else, you forget your body, you hate your body. That's what we do here."

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 6, 2010

    Terrible

    I bought this book because it was selected for my book club. I couldn't finish this book, and neither could anyone else in my book club. We all thought it was unorganized and disjointed. I am shocked that so many people have rated this book so highly.

    1 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 5, 2010

    Reverberating

    A revelation of a revolution that promised a country the keys to heaven but gave its people the evils of hell instead. Nafisi tells her story eloquently on how she survived the upheavals of the revolution. Using her imaginative mind for fiction and her passion for literature, she brought a degree of comfort to the hearts of her students in the face of tyranny. Reading this book was a heartfelt experience of compassion and new found empathy for victims of an oppressive government.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 9, 2008

    Ridiculous.

    When reading the account of the Iranian lifestyle, one would assume Reading Lolita in Tehran would be a reliable recount for it's written by an Iranian. The truth of the matter is that Azar Nafisi is not, and was not, Iranian in culture. She grew up in Switzerland, thus was tainted by a Western view point. We are reading the experience of a woman who shares our ideals and morals, not of a woman who grew up on Islam. The book is plainly biased, only giving us the story of the revolution, an obviously bloody event for any nation, and portraying all Iranian women with the author's opinion. We don't get any insight to the average woman: The woman who fought for the veils and Islam enforcement. If you're going to read this book, read it with the knowledge of the Western bias. Do not read it for the insight on Iranian culture. It's account is no more reliable than if Bush himself came back from Iran to tell us about its culture. Apart from that, the book itself is pretty terrible. The narrator 'and author' is intolerable. She leeches off the wisdom of others while claiming to be an intellectual. She has no independent thought and shares the reckless piety of those she so hates. The book's delivery, the constant summarization of various novels, is possibly more boring than the story itself. Nafisi's analyses of the books will taint the actual books, which are legitimately well written, respectable pieces of literature. Her analyses are specific to a totalitarian government and supported by ridiculously vague assertions. Do not waste your money on this book. If you manage to finish it by some grace of God 'or Allah', you will get little to nothing out of it, and it'd surely ruin the quoted novels for you. It is impossible to relate to and its characters are completely unrealistic in their lack of flaws.

    1 out of 11 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 24, 2008

    I have a policy of always finishing what I start but......

    I can usually push myself to finish whatever book I start reading. I don't think I have ever given up on one but this may be my first. I just took this book with me on a 5 day trip and normally would have finished but I ended up reading about 20 pages. I feel like another reviewer, if I wanted to read a critique of Lolita and other books mentioned in this book I would have read the Cliff Notes. I was expecting more of what life had been like while the reading group was happening. I am disappointed and ready to move on.

    1 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 11, 2004

    Beautifully Written, Thought Provoking

    I found this book beautifully written and lyrical. Given our current times, it was incredibly thought provoking. Dr. Nafsi sheds light on issues that many Westerners cannot comprehend. As a lover of literature (Nabokov, James and Fitzgerald serve as a backdrop for different chapters), I found this book incredibly creative and moving.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 6, 2003

    Fabulous and Inspiring

    This is a very insightful book that inspires mindfulness. I recommend it to every westerner to read and understand their own potential and that of a people who are rarely heard from. The people whose talents, passions, and ambitions are frustrated and thwarted under the veil of Islamic oppression.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 1, 2014

    Nafisi does a great job in describing her life whens she moves b

    Nafisi does a great job in describing her life whens she moves back to Iran during the revolution. The book states her true life personal experiences in the battle towards spreading her love for knowledge in the restricted world of Iran. When first arriving to her country, Nafisi was in awe of how much her beloved country had turned into an unrecognizable land. Before her book club was created, Nafisi was a literary professor at a university in Tehran before her expulsion during the ascent of the regime/revolution. She decided to start a book club in secret because she believed that her people should not be banned from reading American classic literature such as The Great Gatsby. The novel is separated into four parts, each telling a story from a different part of her life. Each section also talks about her book club and the literature they are reading. Most of the books are illegal to read in Iran so they have to be careful when meeting up. As the book progresses, it gets more intense as Nafisi and her group battle the revolution and fight for women's rights. They refuse to wear the muslim headscarf and participate in other acts against the government. This book is a great read for people who love to read and enjoy reading about personal experiences and history. The only recommendation I would give off when it comes to Reading Lolita in Tehran is that if you have read The Great Gatsby, Pride & Prejudice and Lolita it will be easier for you to understand the full context of the plot. The author constantly related the plots of these books to the experiences of the book club members and for me it was a little confusing because I have not read Lolita. But overall, the author did a good job in connecting many pieces of literature to add happiness to readers while reading serious matters such as the Iranian Revolution. 

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  • Posted July 9, 2013

    I don¿t believe Azar Nafisi was meant to be a memoirist. In Read

    I don’t believe Azar Nafisi was meant to be a memoirist. In Reading Lolita in Tehran she remained too self-absorbed to make me care about her students which left very little meaning to the book. She wasted details on trivial observations like the weather, but failed to flesh out the girls. I wanted to like this book, but I expected more. 

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  • Posted July 8, 2013

    I sent this one to the recycling center. It bored me to tears. I

    I sent this one to the recycling center. It bored me to tears. I liked the idea of it and loved the title, but the execution was a hatchet job.

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  • Posted September 11, 2012

    I am surprised that a lot of people reviewing this book have men

    I am surprised that a lot of people reviewing this book have mentioned that it is more about a book than about the goings on of life in Tehran. With a title like "Reading Lolita in Tehran," you know it's going to be focused around just that--the book Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov. Other classics are mentioned, primarly because the premise of the book is that Nafisi, a teacher in the Islamic Republic of Iran during the Iranian revolution, rebels against the orders to not teach such 'scandalous' books in the university and instead invites a few choice students to her home to discuss literature. There are parallels drawn between characters in the stories they cover and the women themselves, as well as their real life situations they experience during this period in time where women's rights were dissolving quickly. The book is well written, but it does lean heavy toward the literary side. If you are unfamiliar with the stories they discuss, then you may feel, as a reader, a little detached from what is going on. However, if you like classic literature, you will surely feel the connection that Nafisi has with her students, and feel like you know them all as well.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 22, 2012

    Eye opening

    Poetic and real and haunting. I have greater understanding and empathy for the oppressed women in this country. I also have a renewed love affair with the classics. I could not put it down. Page turner that makes one think.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 4, 2012

    Beautiful and haunting

    I had to read this in college, but I'm so glad that it was required reading because I would never have picked it up otherwise.

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