Friday 27 April 2007

Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books by Azar Nafisi

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In Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books, we are introduced to a group of 7 women (though they are referred to as girls) who arrive at the author's home every Thursday morning for 2 years. The women are a very diverse group who have a shared interest in literature and learning. These women are described and discussed in this book in such a way that much of the essence they must have in real life, shines through and I couldn't help but connect with them even though I often couldn't empathise. Nafisi states often in the book that when the girls, and others, share their tragic stories, it is always in a way which denies the listener any chance of feeling sympathy and empathy with them and I love that Nafisi was able to bring that across in the book.

This book is formed of four sections: Lolita, Gatsby, James and Austen. In these sections we are not only treated to wonderfully in depth explorations of various books but we get to see the impact of these works on the girls, and also on the author's students during her years of teaching at various universities. Simultaneously in this great book we are exposed to little glimpses of life in Tehran, political and religious issues, the brutality that occurred during and after the war, and so much more. While much of the book paints a dark picture, I couldn't help but be enraptured by the small and rare moments of beauty. The descriptions of 'The Magician" and his delicate ways. The way he stays away from people mostly and yet when he does allow them to visit, he takes great care to make them feel welcome and even serves little chocolates on a plate. The playful innocence as girls fall in love and discuss it with a shyness that touched my heart. The inner beauty that shone from each of their souls, along with a desperate hope. It makes for a splendid contrast and shows us that while it's not often easy to see, there is another side to their lives that without the totalitarian way of life would probably surface more easily.

Much of it was a shock to me as I knew little of Tehran and Iran before this book and I think what hit me more, was that I often forget how amazingly different cultures can be. This was a brilliant reminder. It is impossible for me to try and explain what makes this book so great, it is a mix of so many things but for me especially, it was the way that this book draws the reader in and pulls them close to the many people within the pages, sharing an intimacy between the two that is rarely (if ever) shared between the people in the book.

It's a wonderful book and one that not only will I read again, but which has inspired me to explore the books described within.

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