Sunday, May 15, 2011

"Reading Lolita In Tehran" by Azar Nafisi

Published: 2003
Read: 2011
Genre: Memoir
Setting: Iran
Rating: 2
Reviews: Goodreads
Author web site

I expected to love this book so am trying to figure out why I did not.  The first few chapters drew me in - the story of a group of women, or "my girls" as she called them, that Professor Nafisi meets with once a week in her home, with the intent of discussing "the relation between fiction and reality."  My margin notes: "I would love to be in a class like this!"

Nafisi's reflection on the two years spent with these girls, placed at the beginning of her book, serves as a teaser.
"That room, for all of us, became a place of transgression.  What a wonderland it was!  Sitting around the large coffee table covered with bouquets of flowers, we moved in and out of the novels we read.  Looking back, I am amazed at how much we learned without even noticing it.  We were, to borrow from Nabokov, to experience how the ordinary pebble of ordinary life could be transformed into a jewel through the magic eyes of fiction."  
She remembers laying out expectations at their first meeting:
"to read, discuss and respond to works of fiction.  Each would have a private diary, in which she should record her responses to the novels, as well as ways in which these works and their discussions related to her personal and social experiences."
Nafisi's own mantra:
"Do not, under any circumstances, belittle a work of fiction by trying to turn it into a carbon copy of real life; what we search for in fiction is not so much reality but the epiphany of truth."
With chapters called Lolita, Gatsby, James and Austen, I expected to learn how this group, living in the midst of a revolution and a new totalitarian government, who used religion to oppress women and society at large, would find "jewels" in these great books.  Did they find any epiphanies to help them make sense of their unstable world?  While writing in their diaries, did their reading help or not help with the confiscation of freedoms and rights, such as being able to wear make-up, jewelry, or nail polish?   The post-revolutionary government would require them to wear robes and veils in public.  Did reading fiction help or hinder submission to this mandate?

I kept reading and truthfully, skimming to find what I expected.  Alas, it was not to be.  But in any work, I can usually find something that speaks to me.

Favorite quotes and why:

From Nabokov - on readers and reading
"Readers were born free and ought to remain free." and he "expected his readers to feel in the act of reading fiction; it was a sensation that separated the good readers, as he called them, from the ordinary ones."
A good analogy of how painful memories can come upon us:
"The sky is deceptively sunny: only a handful of clouds linger here and there.  Seconds later, another drop.  Then, with the sun still perched in the sky, you are drenched in a shower of rain. This is how memories invade me, abruptly and unexpectedly: drenched, I am suddenly left alone again on the sunny path, with a memory of the ran." 
I agree completely...
"I had not realized how far the routines of one's life created the illusion of stability."
What books meant to her during a challenging time.  I feel the same way, "post-Josh"...
"If I turned towards books, it was because they were the only sanctuary I knew, one I needed in order to survive, to protect some aspect of myself that was now in constant retreat."
Recommended reading list:

  • Jane Austen - Persuasion
  • Saul Bellow - The Dean's December; Herzog; More Die of Heartbreak
  • Heinrich Boll - The Clown
  • Emily Bronte - Wuthering Heights
  • Mikhail Bulgakov - The Master and Margarita
  • Italo Calvino - If on a Winter's Night a Traveler
  • Lewis Carroll - Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
  • Raymond Chandler - The Big Sleep
  • Joseph Conrad - Under Western Eyes
  • Diderot - Jacques Le Fataliste
  • Henry Fielding - Tom Jones; Shamela
  • Gustave Flaubert - Madame Bovary
  • Sedeq Hedayat - Buf-e-Kuf (the Blind Owl)
  • Henry James - The Ambassadors
  • Franz Kafka - The Trial; In the Penal Colony
  • Herman Melville - The Confidence - Man
  • Vladimir Nabokov - Pnin
  • Iraj Pzeshkzad - My Uncle Napoleon
  • Jean Rhys - Wide Sargasso Sea
  • Scheherazadde - A Thousand and One Nights
  • Muriel Spark - Loitering with Intent; The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
  • Laurence Sterne - The Life and Opinions of Tristam Shandy; Gentleman
  • Italo Svevo - Confessions of Zeno
  • Mark Twain - Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
  • Virginia Woolf - To the Lighthouse

1 comment:

  1. This was a DNF for me. I just couldn't finish it; it was so boring, even though it really shouldn't have been. I just don't think I got her style.