This book transcends categorization as memoir, literary criticism or social history, though it is superb as all three. Literature professor Nafisi returned to her native Iran after a long education abroad, remained there for some 18 years, and left in 1997 for the United States, where she now teaches at Johns Hopkins. Woven through her story are the books she has taught along the way, among them works by Nabokov, Fitzgerald, James and Austen. She casts each author in a new light, showing, for instance, how to interpret The Great Gatsby against the turbulence of the Iranian revolution and how her students see Daisy Miller as Iraqi bombs fall on Tehran Daisy is evil and deserves to die, one student blurts out. Lolita becomes a brilliant metaphor for life in the Islamic republic. The desperate truth of Lolita's story is... the confiscation of one individual's life by another, Nafisi writes. The parallel to women's lives is clear: we had become the figment of someone else's dreams. A stern ayatollah, a self-proclaimed philosopher-king, had come to rule our land.... And he now wanted to re-create us. Nafisi's Iran, with its omnipresent slogans, morality squads and one central character struggling to stay sane, recalls literary totalitarian worlds from George Orwell's 1984 to Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale. Nafisi has produced an original work on the relationship between life and literature. (On sale Apr. 1)Forecast: Women's book groups will adore Nafisi's imaginative work. Booksellers might suggest they read it along with some of the classics Nafisi examines, including Lolita, The Great Gatsby and Pride and Prejudice. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
So you want a revolution? If your foe is an ayatollah, try reading Jane Austen. So exiled writer and scholar Nafisi (English/Johns Hopkins Univ.) instructs in this sparkling memoir of life in post-revolutionary Iran. A modest dissident during the shah’s regime, a member of a Marxist study group like so many other Iranian students abroad ("I never fully integrated into the movement. . . . I never gave up the habit of reading and loving ‘counterrevolutionary’ writers"), Nafisi taught literature at the University of Tehran after the revolution. After running afoul of the mullahs for having dared teach such "immoral" novels as The Great Gatsby and such "anti-Islamic" writers as Austen, she organized a literary study group that met in her home. Fittingly, the first work her group, made up of seven young women, turned to was The Thousand and One Nights, narrated by that great revolutionary Scheherazade. "When my students came into that room," Nafisi writes, "they took off more than their scarves and robes. . . . Our world in that living room became our sanctuary, our self-contained universe, mocking the reality of the black-scarved, timid faces in the city that sprawled below." Tracing her students’ discussions and journeys of self-discovery while revisiting scenes from her "decadent" youth, Nafisi puts a fine spin on works that Western students so often complain about having to read--The Golden Bowl, Mansfield Park, Ulysses, Mrs. Dalloway. And, without once sinking into sentimentality or making overly large claims for the relative might of the pen over the sword, Nafisi celebrates the power of literature to nourish free thought in climes inhospitable to it; as she remarks, Vladimir Nabokov’snovel Lolita may not have been a direct "critique of the Islamic Republic, but it went against the grain of all totalitarian perspectives," while enjoying the pages of Pride and Prejudice with friends served as a powerful reminder that "our society was far more advanced than its new rulers." A spirited tribute both to the classics of world literature and to resistance against oppression.
“Resonant and deeply affecting . . . an eloquent brief on the transformative powers of fiction–on the refuge from ideology that art can offer to those living under tyranny, and art’s affirmative and subversive faith in the voice of the individual.”
–MICHIKO KAKUTANI, The New York Times
“[A] vividly braided memoir . . . Anguished and glorious.”
–CYNTHIA OZICK, The New Republic
“Certain books by our most talented essayists . . . carry inside their covers the heat and struggle of a life’s central choice being made and the price being paid, while the writer tells us about other matters, and leaves behind a path of sadness and sparkling loss. Reading Lolita in
Tehran is such a book.” –MONA SIMPSON, The Atlantic Monthly
“A poignant, searing tale about the secret ways Iranian women defy the regime. . . . [Nafisi] makes you want to rush back to all these books to experience the hidden aspects she’s elucidated.” –Salon
“A quietly magnificent book . . . [Nafisi’s] passion is irresistible.”
“Azar Nafisi’s memoir makes a good case for reading the classics of
Western literature no matter where you are. . . . [Her] perspective on her students’ plight, the ongoing struggle of Iranian citizens, and her country’s violent transformation into an Islamic state will provide valuable insights to anyone interested in current international events.”
–HEATHER HEWETT, The Christian Science Monitor
“An intimate memoir of life under a repressive regime and a celebration of the vitality of literature . . . as rich and profound as the novels
Nafisi teaches.” –The Miami Herald
“An inspiring account of an insatiable desire for intellectual freedom.”
“Transcends categorization as memoir, literary criticism or social history,
though it is superb as all three . . . Nafisi has produced an original work on the relationship between life and literature.”
–Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Nafisi’s passion for books is infectious, and her description of the effect of the revolution on its people is unforgettable.”
–Rocky Mountain News
“[A] sparkling memoir . . . a spirited tribute both to the classics of world literature and to resistance against oppression.”
–Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“Nafisi artfully intertwines her own coming-of-age in pre-Revolutionary
Tehran with the daily frustrations of her pupils. . . . [She] relates her girls’ moving stories with great sympathy.” –Entertainment Weekly
“[Nafisi] reminds us why we read in the first place.” –Newsday
“As timely as it is well-written . . . As the world seems to further divide itself into them and us, Nafisi reminds her readers of the folly of thinking in black and white.” –Cleveland Plain Dealer
“Readers will have a new appreciation for the worn Nabokov and James titles on their bookshelves after reading Nafisi’s engaging memoir.”
–Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Nafisi’s writing has painterly qualities. . . . She is able to capture a moment and describe it with ease and melancholy. . . . Reading Lolita in
Tehran is much more than a literary memoir; it becomes a tool for teaching us how to construe literature in a new, more meaningful way.” –Library Journal
“Brilliant . . . So much is right with this book, if not with this world.”
–The Boston Globe
“I was enthralled and moved by Azar Nafisi’s account of how she defied,
and helped others to defy, radical Islam’s war against women.
Her memoir contains important and properly complex reflections about the ravages of theocracy, about thoughtfulness, and about the ordeals of freedom–as well as a stirring account of the pleasures and deepening of consciousness that result from an encounter with great literature and with an inspired teacher.” –SUSAN SONTAG
“A memoir about teaching Western literature in revolutionary Iran,
with profound and fascinating insights into both. A masterpiece.”
–BERNARD LEWIS, author of What Went Wrong?
“Anyone who has ever belonged to a book group must read this book.
Azar Nafisi takes us into the vivid lives of eight women who must meet in secret to explore the forbidden fiction of the west. It is at once a celebration of the power of the novel and a cry of outrage at the reality in which these women are trapped. The ayatollahs don’t know it,
but Nafisi is one of the heroes of the Islamic Republic.”
–GERALDINE BROOKS, author of Nine Parts of Desire and Year of Wonders
“When I first saw Azar Nafisi teach, she was standing in a university classroom in Tehran, holding a bunch of red fake poppies in one hand and a bouquet of daffodils in the other, and asking, what is kitsch?
Now, mesmerizingly, she reveals the shimmering worlds she created in those classrooms, inside a revolution that was an apogee of kitsch and cruelty. Here, people think for themselves because James and
Fitzgerald and Nabokov sing out against authoritarianism and repression.
You will be taken inside a culture, and on a journey, that you will never forget.” –JACKI LYDEN, author of Daughter of the
Queen of Sheba