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Reading Lolita In Iran

Thinking about heading to Iran anytime soon, maybe for a spring road trip?

Just a guess…but it’s probably not a good idea carrying around the Lolita book in public while you’re over there.

I joke around a lot about being embarrassed about carrying certain books in public, but the thing I love about the United States is that I have that freedom. If I want to read a book about a 15-year-old girl going through puberty, then I have the freedom to do that.

Creepy? Yes. Illegal? No.

But life is different in Iran.

I recently discovered a book called Reading Lolita in Tehran, written by Azir Nafisi. Using Lolita as a metaphor (the whole captor and captive idea), the book is a memoir of Nafisi’s journey as she returns to Iran to teach at the University of Tehran in 1979.

Upon her return, she rebels against the Iranian power structure, refusing to wear a veil, teaching blacklisted Nabokov books like Lolita, One Thousand and One Nights, and Invitation to a Beheading, and eventually forming an underground book club.

According to our friends at Wikipedia, Nafisi implies that, “like the principal character in Lolita, the regime in Iran imposes their ‘dream upon our reality, turning us into his figments of imagination.’  In both cases, the protagonist commits the ‘crime of solipsizing another person’s life.'”

The book spent over 100 weeks on the New York Times best-seller list and has been translated into 32 languages.

My guess is that advocating Lolita in Iran might be a little like taking your Bill Clinton biography to a GOP convention. That’s a little random, I know.

Anyway, have you read Reading Lolita inTehran? Heard of it? Is it a worthy nonfiction read?

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17 Comments Post a comment
  1. I read Nafisi’s book a couple years ago. I thought it was a worthwhile read. She’s a smart lady with an interesting story.

    Like

    December 19, 2011
  2. Yes, it is outstanding and her journey is remarkable. I could gush on and on, but ’nuff said. I was also able to finish it, unlike Nabokov’s Lololita.

    Like

    December 19, 2011
    • I’ll have to get it to one day, a long time away, when I get to read nonfiction again.

      Like

      December 19, 2011
  3. Nafisi is brilliant….love her prose.

    Like

    December 19, 2011
  4. I read it before reading Lolita and so missed the metaphor. It’s a good metaphor. These days, of course, reading Lolita in Iran would probably get you put into one of the notorious prisons there. The book club I belong to read Prisoner of Tehran – a story about just that topic.

    Like

    December 19, 2011
  5. It is on my list to read and I am much more interested in reading it than Lolita. Hopefully I’ll read both next year.

    Like

    December 19, 2011
    • The irony is that a good part of Reading Lolita in Tehran is concerned with showing why it is important to read Lolita. It is the Iranian government and the secret police that reject Lolita out of hand but Nafisi demonstrates to her students and to her readers that reading Lolita is a valuable experience … not to be missed.

      http://mdparker46.com

      Like

      December 19, 2011
  6. I finished reading this maybe a month ago and loved it. The entire idea of creating an underground lit class/book club is just awesome. I will caution that it isn’t a quick read, but it is good.

    Like

    December 19, 2011
    • It’s pretty impressive that these women think enough of reading and learning to take it underground and risk imprisonment. Amazing stuff.

      Like

      December 19, 2011
  7. While Lolita covers an intolerable subject to me, I am pleased to live in a country where I make the my own reading choices free of threats.

    Like

    December 19, 2011
  8. I have read the book and different episodes stay in my mind as horrifying for women. Being a woman with a thought in her head is very dangerous.

    Like

    December 19, 2011
  9. Honestly I’m just going to have to stop reading your blog. You suggest so many great books my “to read” list is growing exponentially. Hmm, I suppose I could just begin reading faster . . .

    Like

    December 19, 2011
    • Uh oh. Don’t do that! I can only say that this one “sounds” like it’s a good book, as I haven’t read it.

      But let me know what you think if you get around to it.

      Like

      December 19, 2011
  10. It’s been on my list for a while as well. But my list keeps growing and growing and growing…

    Like

    December 20, 2011
  11. I’m with Mike on this one. I truly enjoyed this book a lot, which is why I’m so interested in, but haven’t yet read, Lolita. Reading it through the lens of Nafisi’s story and message I think would be somehow more valuable. Says the girl who has not put Lolita on the priority list.

    What I liked most about the book is how it gave me, much like historical fiction does, a more personal perspective on a very real and ongoing cultural context and political situation.

    Like

    December 21, 2011
  12. I have been to Iran twice in 2008 and 2009 and it is actually a society with a lot of love for literature, much more so than in the West. I have never seen so many book stores, including very interesting second hand book stores, like in Tehran. However, the choice of books is of course limited. Everyone has copies of great Persian poets like Hafez, but more recent books are harder to find because of a very strict censorship by the regime.

    On the other hand, Iran is not a member of any international copyright treaties, so small publishers sometimes copy foreign titles and reprint them, either in the original or even in Farsi translations. A lot of the business is done underground. Many people openly have books at home by authors that are banned. As long as you don’t take them outside or to school with you, you will be fine.

    One story to show Iranian’s love for literature:
    On my second trip, I got arrested or rather kidnapped in the street and dragged out of a friend’s car by the Iranian Interior Intelligence Agency and put into prison – http://andreasmoser.wordpress.com/2009/07/30/reports-about-my-trip-to-iran-in-junejuly-2009/ – where I had to stay for a week until I could seemingly convince them that I was not a spy.
    At the evening of the first night, when it becamse clear that I would need to stay in prison for a bit longer, one of the interrogator asked me if I need anything. I replied that a book would be great. Ten minutes later, he came back with an English issue of John Donne’s poems. Very nice gesture, even under terrible circumstances. Unfortunately I don’t like poetry.

    Like

    December 26, 2011
    • Crazy stuff, Andreas! That’s pretty intense.

      Like

      December 27, 2011

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