Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books

Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books

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Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books by Azar Nafisi, Lisette Lecat

We all have dreams—things we fantasize about doing and generally never get around to. This is the story of Azar Nafisi’s dream and of the nightmare that made it come true.
For two years before she left Iran in 1997, Nafisi gathered seven young women at her house every Thursday morning to read and discuss forbidden works of Western literature. They were all former students whom she had taught at university. Some came from conservative and religious families, others were progressive and secular; several had spent time in jail. They were shy and uncomfortable at first, unaccustomed to being asked to speak their minds, but soon they began to open up and to speak more freely, not only about the novels they were reading but also about themselves, their dreams and disappointments. Their stories intertwined with those they were reading—Pride and Prejudice, Washington Square, Daisy Miller and Lolita—their Lolita, as they imagined her in Tehran.
Nafisi’s account flashes back to the early days of the revolution, when she first started teaching at the University of Tehran amid the swirl of protests and demonstrations. In those frenetic days, the students took control of the university, expelled faculty members and purged the curriculum. When a radical Islamist in Nafisi’s class questioned her decision to teach The Great Gatsby, which he saw as an immoral work that preached falsehoods of “the Great Satan,” she decided to let him put Gatsby on trial and stood as the sole witness for the defense.
Azar Nafisi’s luminous tale offers a fascinating portrait of the Iran-Iraq war viewed from Tehran and gives us a rare glimpse, from theinside, of women’s lives in revolutionary Iran. It is a work of great passion and poetic beauty, written with a startlingly original voice.

Author Biography:

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781402590849
Publisher: Recorded Books, LLC
Publication date: 05/28/2004
Edition description: Unabridged, 12 CDs, 14 hours
Pages: 16
Product dimensions: 5.22(w) x 5.82(h) x 1.99(d)

About the Author

Azar Nafisi is a professor at Johns Hopkins University. She won a fellowship from Oxford and taught English literature at the University of Tehran, the Free Islamic University and Allameh Tabatabai University in Iran. She was expelled from the University of Tehran for refusing to wear the veil and left Iran for America in 1997. She has written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal and The New Republic, and is the author of Anti-Terra: A Critical Study of Vladimir Nabokov's Novels. She lives in Washington, D.C., with her husband and two children.


Potomac, Maryland

Place of Birth:

Tehran, Iran


M.A., Ph.D., Oklahoma University, 1979

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Reading Lolita in Tehran 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 146 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Viejo More than 1 year ago
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.
Baomei More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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!
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Lifeandtime More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
K_Han More than 1 year ago
Beautifully written book that is very insightful for everyone. Every person, male or female, should buy this.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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. 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
wagnerclassiccars More than 1 year ago
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. 
sunpensun More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Malkyra More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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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