Thursday, April 17, 2014

Review/Latest Book Club Read: Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi

Here's the description from
Every Thursday morning for two years in the Islamic Republic of Iran, a bold and inspired teacher named Azar Nafisi secretly gathered seven of her most committed female students to read forbidden Western classics. As Islamic morality squads staged arbitrary raids in Tehran, fundamentalists seized hold of the universities, and a blind censor stifled artistic expression, the girls in Azar Nafisi's living room risked removing their veils and immersed themselves in the worlds of Jane Austen, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Henry James, and Vladimir Nabokov. In this extraordinary memoir, their stories become intertwined with the ones they are reading. Reading Lolita in Tehran is a remarkable exploration of resilience in the face of tyranny and a celebration of the liberating power of literature.

So this was our latest book club read, which my twin sister picked.  It definitely generated a lot of conversation.  We all really enjoyed the book, though we did have some issues with it.  In the beginning Nafisi mentions something about not comparing the books they read to their lives, but then the entire book is pretty much her comparing her life to books.  Which isn't a bad thing at all, we just noted that she'd mentioned not doing it.

One thing that really struck me was what life was like for Nafisi and her students during the war back when she started teaching.  They pretty much just keep living their normal lives.  If it was me, I think I'd stay hibernated at home, I'd make my family stay with me.  But Nafisi and her husband keep working, and her kids keep going to school.  The violence going on around them was just a part of life.

I honestly don't know much about the history of Iran, but I learned a bit from this book.  It was terrifying comparing how womens' rights were taken away (like walking outside in shorts and t-shirts, now having to wear a scarf and robes in public) to books I've read like The Handmaid's Tale.  Nafisi tried to protest against it by not wearing the veil, but eventually she had to give in and wear it.  She and her students are normal people.  And they had these simple rights taken from them.  I'm not trying to get political or anything.  There's nothing wrong with wearing the veil if it's your choice.  And some of her students expressed this opinion.  Before it was law, they willingly wore the veil, but now they were feeling stifled because they were forced to wear it.

Reading this book made me want to revisit the classics like The Great Gatbsy and Jane Austen.  It also made me want to read Lolita and other books I never ever thought of picking up.

It also really made me think, which is always a good sign for me.  Sometimes I want fluffy books so that I don't have to think about anything.  This is not one of those books.  I found myself taking notes on my Nook while reading this.  We had a fantastic book club discussion!  This is definitely a good choice for book club, at least if your clubmates are into non-fiction.

I can't wait to dig into our next book club pick, The Monuments Men!

Have you read Reading Lolita in Tehran?  Did you read it for book club??  Let me know your thoughts in the comments or on Twitter!

Title: Reading Lolita in Tehran
Author: Azar Nafisi
Date of Publication: 2003
Number of Pages: 384
Genre: Nonfiction, memoir
Source: personal ebook

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