What’s all this fuss about Iran?
Reading Lolita in Tehran is a memoir by Azar Nafisi and it’s very little about Lolita and pretty much about Tehran.
Published in 2003, the book has made the biggest comeback of its 20 years-long life.
The reason has been made quite obvious by recent events: Iran is bursting into riots and insurrections, women now are being poisoned in order not to attend school and often denied to become doctors or to be visited by male doctors (yes, that means being denied healthcare).
Basically, many people are dying because they have been asking for basic human rights. This is no news, neither for the World nor for Iran, which has been under the control of the khomeinist revolutionaries since 1979, more or less.
Then what’s the point with Lolita?
Good question, dear reader. You must know that the author Azar Nafisi, former English Literature professor at the University Allameh Tabatabai of Tehran and current English Literature Professor at the John Hopkins University, wrote this book (in English) to tell the world the story of her own revolution.
Nafisi became a professor at the University of Tehran after the revolution. She is part of that generation of Iranian women who saw Iran before the revolution and lived most of their lives under it.
When Khomeini’s regime took power, censorship was made. On everything. The revolutionary committee banned basically all things Western: films, news, tv and, of course, books.
When Nafisi started being denied to teach Nabokov and F. Scott Fitzgerald (among many others), she decided to resign from University, to take a bunch of her favourite students (all girls) and to start having secret rendez-vous with them at her house, to study those forbidden texts.
She reported everything about her crusade against censorship, from the choice of the books to how she managed to find copies, or how her students hid from their families these clandestine lessons or yet what had been happening to these women during the years (and I warn you, some of this stuff is rather ugly).
The novel goes back and forth in time. We read a first-person Nafisi dwelling in her memories and dealing with a heavy secret in the present.
Yes, she reads and studies forbidden books and home, but the suspense goes hand in hand with the sweet, moving descriptions of habits that generated, lesson after lesson, among the brave girls.
The way they styled their outfits under their dark robes, the pastries and the tea they regularly served during their brakes: all nestled in Uni-worthy literature lessons and in the exciting tranquillity of having a safe place.
Reading Reading Lolita in Tehran is not only good for your English, thanks to the majestic prose of Professor Nafisi and her lessons on Lolita, The Great Gatsby and Madame Bovary, but also good for you: this book is a necessary cold shower to wash away torpor of ignorance.
We are accustomed to the sight of a grey, post-revolutionary, prohibitionist Iran, but we forget that not only the place has been free once upon a time, but also that some people, behind their doors, are still fighting for their own freedom.
P.S.: You’re welcome.