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 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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  • Posted April 28, 2010

    Disjointed but Interesting

    "Reading Lolita in Tehran" is Nafasi's historical account of her years in Tehran (1979 to 1980 and then in 1995). She uses themes from literature to provide an understanding of the losses and tragedies under a totalitarian regime. She is a professor of Western classics, first at the University of Tehran and then later in her own home with a small number of selected female students. Her book is chaotic and disjointed, but in her analysis of The Great Gatsby, she praises the ability of the novel to give the reader a sense of this time in America. She sees Fitzgerald as writing about the pursuit of dreams and their ultimate loss, but writing about them in such a way as to give this experience to the reader, rather than just "lecturing" about it. Perhaps I'm giving Nafasi too much credit, but throughout her novel, I wondered if she was attempting to accomplish the same thing: giving us the experience of the chaos of Iran during the initial revolution in 79-80, and then in the increasingly restrictive, bleak years in the early to mid 90s. In this memoir, she does not present a linear story line of her life in Tehran; this is a jumble of time periods, with clarity lost about the ideological issues being pitted against each other in the early years of the revolution. As a reader, I know that things will get progressively more controlling, with life becoming more and more unbearable in this increasingly repressive society; but I see the characters in Nafasi's memoir seeming to be oblivious to the coming perils to their freedom of thought, speech, choice, movement, and identity. Although there are many fascinating threads in this book, there is no coherent organizing theme to it. Most disturbing is the lack of sense of characters in the book. Nafasi teaches 7 young women in her living room, who come to her classes as great risk to themselves for violating the current rules of their society. But the identity of these women is thin and vague, as if even personality and spirit is diluted under the crushing veil of Iran's rule of women. Read this book for the interesting detail, but not for plot, comprehensive information, or involvement with the characters.

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  • Posted November 19, 2009

    Reading Lolita was worth the read-

    I just finished reading Lolita in Tehran and enjoyed the story. It basiscally is an interaction between the authors life teaching western literature in Iran (4 authors) and how the authors/their stories she taught in her classes came into play in their every day life. A select few of the authors students would meet every Thursday at her apartment (at their risk)wearing western clothes, letting their hair down etc in a strict Islamic country. It was difficult to keep up with all the students and their individual problems but if you focused you were eventually able to understand each student and their own individual situation. The story starts off very slow, a critique mostly on Nabakov but quickly picks up. What I found MOST interesting was the Nafisi's stories of just plain every day life and the perils of taking chances like she and her students did against revolutionary guards which could have lead to flogging,prison and even death. The ending is exciting and yet fullfilling for freedoms sake. 7 out of 10 for me. Just get through the beginning and your off and running.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 18, 2009

    AP World History Review: Reading Lolita in Tehran

    The novel, Reading Lolita in Tehran, is simply an analysis of life in Iran before, during, and after the Islamic Revolution. Dr. Azar Nafisi, the author, uses the books she taught in her english literature classes to tell the story of the masses. Through the writings of Vladimir Nabokov, Henry James, Jane Austen, as well as the Great Gatsby, she expresses both the atrocities and oppressive behaviors imposed by the Islamist regime. Unlike many novels, this one starts in the author's own parlor. But, from this vantage point, Nafisi reminisces about the Iran of her youth. Being that her father had been in the government prior to the regime, she was unavoidably affected by the disaster that was post-Shah Iran. In fact her studies abroad were interrupted when her father was jailed. From here, the author reveals the anecdotal accounts of her classes, how at first the tempers flared high amongst her revolutionary and leftist students. Although she writes of long time span, the constant feature of her memoir was the clandestine class she formed.
    After leaving her teaching career in the universities of Iran, Nafisi decided to round up some of her most dedicated and treasured students to come to her home on Thursday mornings and discuss various reading selections. At first, the reader only sees a motley crew of personalities. But, as the story progresses, the discussions reveals more intimate sides of all who participate. Interestingly enough, the reader follows these young women through their personal relations, fears, and joys. From this shift to private life can one find a problem with the novel. It seems as if Nafisi is unable to distinguish between the Islamist regimes and the religion, in itself. But, this may be due to the fact that she doesn't portray herself as religious. However it would have further enriched the memoir if she were able to relate the affect of the regime on non-radical, devout Muslims in Iran.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 3, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Ms. Afizi gives an insider's viewpoint in a world so unknown.

    It was absorbing and a page turner.

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  • Posted April 18, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    A bit of lit crit, womens studies, and a view of Iran--all rolled into one.

    Ever since I read READING LOLITA IN TEHRAN the first time, Azar Nafisi has been something of a hero to me. I was first introduced to her book while I was studying Farsi in Monterey several years ago. The timing was great, because I was learning about Iran for the first time.

    Though it was a timely introduction to READING LOLITA IN TEHRAN, I would have loved the book regardless. Nafisi's brilliant blend of literature, culture, and personal courage just amazed me. Not only is she a vastly intelligent lady (with a true love of classic literature to boot!), but a warm and observant woman.

    Nafisi's view of Iran is a very negative look at post-revolutionary Iran, so if you don't know much about Iran and choose to read this book, please know that it is by far not the only view of Iran available. Nafisi is one of the intellectuals that have been described by one brilliant native-Iranian professor of mine as the "Iranian Brain Drain"--and indeed many intellectuals of Iran chose to leave their country because of the revolution; however, Iran is still a complex country that takes more attention than just this one perception can give it. That being said, I think Nafisi's view is an utterly honest perspective--from the heart--and is both a very good "starter" as well as supplemental reading.

    Essentially, Nafisi's book is a memoir of her time in Iran after the revolution. Nafisi was a professor of English literature at Tehran University--and something of a liberal. Some of the most interesting scenes take place while she's still teaching there, because of the differing political ideologies of her students. In one particularly magnetizing scene, the book THE GREAT GATSBY stands trial in her classroom. The true story takes place after she voluntarily leaves the college when the college directors demand that she wear the veil. The real story is the small group of female students she gathers for continued discussion on literature. The effects of both the revolution and the literature upon Nafisi's girl group is amazing. Add into the book, also, the lovely literary criticism of such wonderful novels as Nabokov's LOLITA, Fitzgerald's THE GREAT GATSBY, James' DAISY MILLER...

    In fact, for her literary views alone, this read is well worth it. The rest is just bonus.

    This is a must read for anyone who loves literature, anyone who wants to know more about Iran or the Middle East, or anyone just looking for something different to read.

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  • Posted January 3, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    A provocative testimony

    A provocative testimony to the author's own experience as a woman and a teacher in Tehran during the Islamist Republic's formation. Also some enlightening reflections on the nature and role of literature in public and private life.<BR/><BR/>I haven't read "Lolita," so the first section was particularly cumbersome for me to follow. I have read "Gatsby," so this section was easier for me to follow.<BR/><BR/>A good read, even if you haven't read what she considers literary classics. But it's pretty heady in its approach. A good choice for reading a few pages at a time, allowing her points to sink in and percolate.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 11, 2008

    Keep reading

    I agree with the previous two reviewers the story started out slow and it looked like the discussions on Lolita would never end, but if you can get through that 'which I did' it is exactly what the two were expecting. It moved onto describe life during the eight year war with Iraq and the effect on the different 'girls'. It dove into the lives of the 'girls' and their fears and reasons for staying or leaving Iran. In the end, it met my expectations.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 5, 2008

    A reviewer

    i bought this book thinking i'll be reading something compelling and insightful, man, was i wrong. it started out relatively slow, which is typical of memoirs so i let it pass. besides, the writing style was vivid and relaxed. but when it got to a point where it was getting nowhere, i simply quit reading. it became really stagnant and veered from what i thought would be the heart of the story which is living life with a constant feeling of fear because of reading banned literature. it then turned into a bore-fest by chapter 18, full of the author's opinions on lolita. if i knew it was going to be that way, i should've bought cliffsnotes on lolita instead. i was expecting a lot more from it because of all the praise it received from big-name publications. however, reading it firsthand made me think twice of relying on critics' opinions. the good thing though is that i bought this for a bargain price so i don't feel an ounce of guilt after.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 21, 2008

    hard read, but well written

    This is not a quick read. I usually read a book or even two books a week. This book took me three and a half weeks to read. It is very well written. I would put it more in the category of books I read in some of my upper college lit classes. The author is a professor and writes like one. Only the first 60 pages and the last 40 pages are about the book club. The rest of the book is about the political changes in Iran and how it affected the students and the teachers at the universities. I deals a lot with Iran becoming an Islamic republic. It also has chapters completely devoted to American works such as The Great Gatsby. While it was a hard read, I learned a lot from the book about books, Iranian history, Islam and many other topics.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 1, 2008

    hard read

    I found this to be a difficult read and I was so interested in learning about the life in Iran. I felt she did book reviews trying to fit the women in. Didn't work.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 21, 2007

    A reviewer

    This book gave a fascinating perspective on Tehran's political issues and the constraints faced by women in everyday life. The literature that the author chose to parallel and compare to life in Iran created a dynamic illustration of the feelings and barriers the main characters dealt with.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 25, 2007

    A reviewer

    I picked up this book with excitement. At first I felt I was learning new things about the Islamic Republic of Iran, but soon the book started to annoy me. Please, do not tell me that all the answers to problems of life can only be found in Western literature. Have you explored the Indian and the Chinese literature? You did not find Rumi telling you the same things and much more? Love of literature is one thing, but to live in it is totally UNREAListic.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 19, 2007

    Missed the mark

    This book was confusing at best. It was difficult to follow what time period each story took place in and how they all fit together. Mixed in, was a literary review of differnt novels and authors. It just didn't come together. The concept of this book was so interesting and exciting. The idea of women secretly getting together to read censored novels in a muslim nation is facsinating. But it wasn't about that at all. This book clearly wasn't written for the masses.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 28, 2007

    NOT a must read

    I opened the book with a sense of excitement about a secret book club in Tehran & closed it wondering about the book club since so little of the book was actually about it. Although there seems to be many positive recommendations for this book, including the NY Times, this book is truly NOT about a book club. You should know that before picking up the book. The publisher and the author should seriously consider changing the changing the synopsis on the back jacket cover. The writing often seems pretentious, as if the author is putting on airs to exemplify her status as a college English professor. If you are interested in sitting in on a college English Literature class that doubles as a history class 'on Tehran¿s politics', by all means read this book but if you are truly interested in reading a book about a book club on forbidden literature this is NOT the book for you. An ACTUAL English Literature class would probably be more interesting.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 28, 2007

    Not for the non-intellectual

    Written by an intellectual for intellectuals. About a third of the book, mixed throughout, is the story of the author's life and her relationships in an increasingly unbearable and barbaric Iran. I really enjoyed reading about her life, her relationships, and her Iran, both before and after Ayatollah Khomeini, which comprised about a third of the book. The rest of the book, again interspersed throughout, is a technical discussion of classic literature, from Jane Austin to Nabokov. To some degree, the literature discussion is loosely connected with the plot line of the author's life and country. But the connection was often tenuous, at least to me. I'm glad I read the book. I learned a lot about the history of Iran and it's journey into hatred, hypocrisy, and religious zealotry. But I also learned a lot about the beautiful, courageous people of Iran, who continue to hope in their hearts for a more moderate Iran.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 12, 2006

    A different perspective

    This was one of the most enchanting books I've read in a long time. It was intriguing and beautifully written from the first page to the last. Not only did it provide numerous perspectives on the situation in Iran and it's history through the narrative of the many very different characters in the novel, but it also reminds the reader of the value of litterature and how many different ways a single book can be read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 10, 2006

    Seeing the Invisible Girl

    The book was an incredible insight into the world of Iranian women. It was a beautifully descriptive and, brought the author¿s world to life. The author tells her story while comparing it to different fiction books that have touched her life. The book gave me insight to how some of the women in Iran view the rigorous standards placed on them by their government. It showed how they were made into invisible people, who are not allowed to show who they really are. They must hide themselves from the world, becoming shadows that everyone can see. The book came out at just the right time, showing a side of Muslim culture that someone may not have stopped to consider.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 14, 2006

    A Pleasant Surprise

    A good friend of mine had recommended this book to me, and I was eager to read it, yet didn't expect the great memoir that it turned out to be. The novel is set in 80's and 90's Iran, and documents the life of Azar Nafisi as a professor, confidante, intellectual, woman, and Iranian. The first and fourth sections (subtitled Lolita and Austen) detail her life in a more present day after she has resigned her teaching positions, leading a private reading group of former students. The second and third sections (Gatsby and James) document her rise as a teacher, the ways in which she met the girls that would people her group later, and her struggles as a woman throughout the Iranian Revolution and the reign of the Ayatollah Khomeini. These sections are really an insight into the struggles of not just women, but of all Iran's citizens who were not rabid fundamentalists during the revolution, and the tumultuousness that characterized their lives: when one day it was allowed to walk unveiled and eat ice cream in public and the next day it was not. Perhaps one of the most enlightening things for me was to learn that the rigidity of Iran's conservative, Islamic policies fluctuated: at times travel restrictions were loosened, and artistic performances were forgiven, and at other times, they were all shut down. But the most skillfully crafted aspect of this book is how Nafisi manages to incorporate the themes of novels which she teaches at the University of Tehran into her daily life, and draw parallel between the mirroring scenarios. With Lolita, she describes a life that at any moment could be stolen away, and how a human's lack of empathy creates a villain, ruthlessly destroying others' dreams. With The Great Gatsby, she defends a more disrespectable, materialistic side of Gatsby, citing his pure and inalterable dream of Daisy and how that is honorable. Yet she draws conclusions that this dream cannot coincide with the corruption of society, as is similar to her students' dreams of Western society paired with an oppressive regime. With Henry James, she discusses different forms of courage, and the ways in which characters are apportioned different traits, possibly creating a scene where no individual stands out, but where each has some admirable qualities. And finally with Jane Austen's novels, she talks about her multivocality, and the ways all her characters play significant roles, as did all of her students in their tight nit reading circle: the ways in which she was affected by all of their plight. Lastly, and possibly most directed to their strife in Iran, Nafisi presents the ways in which Austen's characters are forced to express themselves: not by overtly sensual ways that her students covet, but by more hidden ways (the uses of language, posing desiress individuals as opposite, and creating dramatic tension by forcing characters to express themselves in ways not entirely adequate). These forced compliances closely resemble Iranian subservience under Islamic rule. The novel goes on to explore other subjects of hopelessness, loyalty, sacrifice (reasonable and unreasonable), glorification through vilifying, fictional/imaginative escapes, personality, and reality in limbo. And possibly the most heartwrenching idea is that amid Nafisi's and her students' attempt to avoid the government's forced unreality, they must flee to another world of fiction, which sadly doesn't either exist. This struggle to find a rooted existence is key to Nafisi's and all of her girl's hopes and dreams, from men to education to true freedom. This novel/memoir is perfect for anyone who loves to read about other books and their impacts, and draw parallels from novels and other societies in relation to their own lives. Amazing.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 3, 2006

    Truly haunting

    This is an amazing book. It's haunting, beautiful, and tragic, and it's so much more than just a light summer read about forbidden book-reading in Iran. It's about passion, art, freedom, life, love, what it is to be human. Nafisi accomplishes what only the greatest writers manage: she makes us stop and reconsider our realities. That said, the 'Memoir in Books' part of the title is significant, so I wouldn't recommend this book to anyone who doesn't have a genuine interest in literature or who's only looking for a page-turner.

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