This is another book about reading books (like Was the Cat in the Hat Black?). Here, Azar Nafisi is writing about her life as a professor in Iran. She’s at a university for the two middle sections of the book (Gatsby and James), and then she’s with this great awesome group of young women at her home in the first and last sections (Lolita and Austen).
It’s crazy too because the last book I read was about racism in American children’s literature. How books present race and control what people read. How children need someone to guide them through a book like The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn because reading the N word a million times will effect you. Philip Nel’s book was encouraging antiracist readings and also a call to read other books.
Reading Lolita in Tehran, however, is a call to the classics. The most classic books maybe ever, ones I learned in college too. And they relate to the lives of any people navigating a war torn, highly gendered, and monitored life. Nafisi’s story takes place in the 80’s and 90’s in Iran. She lives through an Iran-Iraq war and stopped teaching at a university because they were forcing the hijab by law, not religious choice.
So the book is really about how she guides her students through the books and also the books themselves guiding her through her own life. One scene that has stuck with me is when she’s with the women in her apartment and talking about all the restrictions they face, like they can’t wear make-up or anything or they’ll be imprisoned. One woman says she wears red nail polish (covered with black gloves) to take her mind off things. Then someone asks what things? Then she’s like: “‘Oh, things. You know.’ And then she burst into tears” (271). Damn I know that feeling.
Best line: How could one be in love and deny oneself a little joy? -Azar Nifisi
Some pieces I wrote on and about Lolita: Lolita & R. Kelly & Me, Perfect Teenage Girls, and Nabokovian Desire in Sex Me: Confessions of Daddy’s Little Freak.