Book Review: Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi

Reading Lolita in Tehran

In the fall of 1995, after resigning from my last academic post, I decided to indulge myself and fulfill a dream.

This book left me speechless. I rarely read non-fiction, but this memoir grabbed me by the heart and refused to let go. I must admit that, somewhere in the back of my mind, I have always thought of book-groups as being cozy (I’ve never been to one, although I have eavesdropped on a few in cafés). This memoir, related through the various forbidden texts read by Azar Nafisi’s students in Iran, is anything but.

It has a precise painfulness to it, even during the moments of joy (and there are many of those). The women that we meet are sharp, intelligent women with differing opinions and backgrounds. Women who are risking imprisonment or worse just to read, and to be in a space where they can have opinions. Where they can laugh. Where they can reveal that they paint their nails and that they have strong feelings about Nabokov.

I must admit to knowing very little about the revolution in Iran, or about Ayatollah Khomeini or the Shahs. In fact, I knew so little that I didn’t really have any preconceptions about Iranian women. If I had, they would surely have been shredded by Azar Nafisi’s honest and biting prose.

What was striking about this memoir was that the people were just that: people. They worried about love and children and rent, and they also worried about being bombed or arrested for immorality. The weight of the regime was present everywhere, and it was a weight that is hard for me to comprehend, and yet these women fight back in snatched moments – coffee drunk with a man to whom they are not related; poetry recited in prison cells; classic novels read in secret.

It was heartrending. I had to keep taking breaks because I felt claustrophobic. I realise that I am making this memoir sound appallingly depressing, which it is not. Yes, it is painful and hard, but there is hope. Hope, and resistance. And that is really the centre of this memoir: a group of ordinary people, who wish to do ordinary things and who are made rebels by circumstance.

Certainly worth reading, although I advise having tea and tissues to hand.

My reviews seem to be getting shorter and shorter at the moment! I hope that they are still enjoyable and useful.


7 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. thefeministdigress
    May 31, 2016 @ 19:42:38

    Thank you for this review, having read it I think I’d like to check it out, I’m really getting into this genre of read and am always looking for new books to get my nose into! X


  2. brontespageturners
    May 31, 2016 @ 21:19:32

    This is such a fantastic book. You are right about having to take breaks from it when it gets intense. I learned so much from it! Bronte


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