Reading Lolita in Tehran is a story about the strength and courage of one woman under an oppressive government regime. Kate Caroline tells us about this book, the author, and the parallels between the author’s life and literature.
About the Author
Azar Nafisi was born in Iran in 1947. She graduated from Oklahoma University with a PhD in English and American Literature and as well as publishing two books and various essays, she is also a professor. After receiving her PhD, she returned to Iran in 1979, where she taught English literature at the University of Tehran.
1979 was also the year of the Iranian revolution and the rise of Ayatollah Khomeini, as well as Islamic extremism in Iran. In 1981, Nafisi was expelled from the University for refusing to wear the traditional veil until 1987, when she resumed teaching at the University.
She left the University permanently in 1995 when she felt that she could no longer teach English literature due to the stringent restrictions placed on her and her teaching by the government and University.
In 1997 Nafisi left Iran and returned to the United States to write Reading Lolita in Tehran. She is now a visiting professor at Johns Hopkins University.
Nafisi’s story is important because it led her to write Reading Lolita in Tehran. When she quit teaching at the University, she began a private, women-only English class at home with seven of her students from the University. They would meet every Thursday morning to discuss literature. Reading Lolita in Tehran chronicles her discussions and experiences with her students as well as her life in Iran.
The book is divided into four sections: “Lolita,” (Vladimir Nabokov) “Gatsby,” (F. Scott Fitzgerald) “James,” (James Joyce) and “Austen” (Jane Austen). Nafisi relates various themes and topics from the books with what was happening in Tehran at the time. All of these books were banned in Iran at the time, so sometimes she acquired the books on the black market or from friends. She made copies for the group, or they would share copies.
The section called Lolita is about the time when Nafisi left the University of Tehran for good and began the class with seven of her girls. They read Lolita as well as Invitation to a Beheading (also by Nabokov) and One Thousand and One Nights. These books deal mainly with oppression and are paralleled with the beginning of the Revolution in Iran.
The book has been highly praised, and remained on the New York Times Bestsellers List for over one hundred weeks, as well as strongly criticized by other professors and writers. It is a very well-written book, rich with literature and history and superb storytelling – all combined into one: a must-read on the Worldette list!
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