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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Of Literary Criticism, Repression and Revolutionary Horrors
This book will appeal most to those who want to understand what it has been like to be a Western educated and liberated woman in Iran since the Iranian revolution began against the shah. If you also enjoy English literary criticism and analysis, you will have a great treat ahead of you. If hearing about injustice and brutality upset you, you will like this book less...
Published on 20 Oct 2004 by Donald Mitchell

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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Watch your expectations
Firstly I must confess that I didn't finish this book. I read so far, then scanned sections later. That was because I found the book to be less about life in Iran and more of a literary review on the books of Nabokov, a writer with whom I am not familiar apart from "Lolita" 40 years ago. I have enjoyed other works about life in different cultures and harsh regimes, "The...
Published on 9 Sep 2009 by Keith Lawson


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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Of Literary Criticism, Repression and Revolutionary Horrors, 20 Oct 2004
By 
Donald Mitchell "Jesus Loves You!" (Thanks for Providing My Reviews over 124,000 Helpful Votes Globally) - See all my reviews
(HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (TOP 500 REVIEWER)    (VINE VOICE)   
This review is from: Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books (Paperback)
This book will appeal most to those who want to understand what it has been like to be a Western educated and liberated woman in Iran since the Iranian revolution began against the shah. If you also enjoy English literary criticism and analysis, you will have a great treat ahead of you. If hearing about injustice and brutality upset you, you will like this book less well.
The format of this book is most unusual. I predict that you will either find the format intriguing or maddening, depending on how flexible you are in your appreciation of new styles. Professor Nafisi writes her memoir of those years in a sort of semi-diary form. The observations are filled with nuance about the people in her life, the nature of her life, her thoughts and how what's going on reflects the concerns of four novelists, Nabokov (especially through Lolita), Fitzgerald (especially through The Great Gatsby), James (especially through Daisy Miller and The Ambassadors), and Austen (especially through Pride and Prejudice). Against this literary and personal backdrop, violent events explode every few pages as the Islamic Republic is established and begins its crackdown on women and dissidents. Later, the Iran-Iraq war provides similar moments of violence.
The literary-real life nexus is related to Professor Nafisi having been an English literature professor in Tehran when the revolution began. At first, she still taught in the university. Later she resigned. Still later, she agreed to return in full Muslim regalia for women. Then, she quit again and began teaching a secret class for her most devoted students in her home.
The book opens with a lyrical description of the home teaching experience in the context of Lolita, which the group was studying. After that section, the book moves back in time and proceeds in chronological fashion through the author's decision to leave Iran to relocate with her family in the United States.
This book taught me many things. First, I had no idea of the degree of repression and oppression that has occurred in Iran. Second, I was intrigued by how Professor Nafisi tried to live a decent, meaningful life in this difficult context. Her life is a good example for all who like to help others. Third, I was impressed by the way she could use student reactions to literature as a way of explaining what their culture and experiences have been like. For instance, her women students usually did not date, but were trying to understand complex relationships between people of the opposite sex who were attracted to one another. There was a difficult experience void to fill. In addition, the more literal male students would associate any immoral action taken by any character as suggesting that the book is immoral and that the author approved of the action . . . even if the character later suffered the direst consequences because of the action. Fourth, our freedom in the United States is vastly more precious than we realize. Reading about what it's like to have a religion running the country is an important lesson that we should all be aware of.
Professor Nafisi is a thoughtful, insightful and caring person. I enjoyed learning about her as well. Many of her students also appealed to me, and I enjoyed finding out how they dealt with their challenges.
Be free!
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Watch your expectations, 9 Sep 2009
By 
Keith Lawson (England) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books (Paperback)
Firstly I must confess that I didn't finish this book. I read so far, then scanned sections later. That was because I found the book to be less about life in Iran and more of a literary review on the books of Nabokov, a writer with whom I am not familiar apart from "Lolita" 40 years ago. I have enjoyed other works about life in different cultures and harsh regimes, "The bookseller of Kabul" "Burned" and a memoir about visiting Romania during Ceacescu's reign. All were brilliant portrayals of life going on under the boot of totalitarian regimes or oppressive cultures. This book, while nicely written, is too descriptive about English Literature and not the people; I couldn't engage with it. If you are uncertain now, then try browsing it or finding abstracts to see if it is what you want in a read. To understand my taste, then read "Touching Tibet" by Naomi Ash, a book I have recommended to many and all have been grateful for that advice.
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51 of 56 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Every book lover and every woman should read this book, 22 Feb 2004
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This review is from: Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books (Paperback)
I came across this book quite by chance and, have to say, that it is not the usual thing that I would choose - being more a lover of fiction and history than autobiographical works. However, the sub-title, "A memoir in books" drew in this reader for whom, like the author, books are a necessity and not a luxury. The book is extemely moving, reciting the more trivial (and therefore more personal) complaints of the oppressive regime against normal people in Iran, espcially against women. Books are a backdrop for this information, but also essential, giving strength and pathos to the things going on around the author at the time. I would like to applaud Azar Nafisi for writing this very important book. I loved it. I have brought copies for friends and lent it to anyone who would let me. It is far from the perhaps ominous or depressing title it may appear - it is uplifting and joyous. A celebration of womanhood and of literature. Thank you to the author for writing it - I am honoured to the be the first to give it five stars and only hope I persuade more people to read it.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars If this is what it means to be an "intellectual," then spare me from PhDs in English!, 22 Jun 2011
This review is from: Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books (Paperback)
I approached this book with no preconceived ideas, being intrigued by its title (which turned out sadly to be its only asset) and by the concept of seeing life through the prism of literary works.

However, it took me a great effort of will to finish the book. This is because after the first 50 pages where the basic idea is being expounded, there is absolutely nothing new: just more anecdotes from daily life tied in to abstruse analysis of great works. The tone retains emotionally flat throughout the book and there is absolutely no character development at all. Thus, as I read the last page, I was still confused over which woman student was which....

A major source of irritation with this book is the jarringly narcissistic tone of "my girls," (a la Miss Jean Brodie), "my magician," "my Manna" and on and on. This tone of ownership and self-importance reigns supreme to the point where I said several times: Just get over yourself.

Of even greater concern is the unrelenting lack of empathy by the author for anyone except herself, whom she paradoxically characterizes as "Alice in Wonderland" and an "intellectual." Is this why the word is often used as a pejorative by native English speakers?

We are also told that the author considers herself a "revolutionary," having spent much of her time as a student in the US marching and shouting but not actually doing anything practical to help the proletarians. We are told that her thesis was even written about proletarian literature.....

The author also participates in marches in Tehran but is careful never to put herself in any real danger, usually finishing the day in a café with her favorite `cafe glace' or at home with her family enjoying a bootleg glass of wine. For a while she fancies herself a rebel against the Islamic regime when she debates whether or not to refuse to wear a headscarf and whether to resign her position at the university. Not surprisingly she capitulates and stays for many years in her comfortable intellectual hideout.

I really lost patience with this author on the occasions when she castigates the Islamic regime and others for their lack of empathy towards the Iranian people. The most egregious example of her complete lack of humanity and self-awareness is when she characterizes the 8-year Iran-Iraq War: "It was not the worst war in the world, although it left over a million dead and injured."

This complete lack of connection to reality outside her opaque world of literature and a few obsessively favorite books persists throughout the book. This means that the many instances of horror in the lives of her "girls" who in fact are married women with children, are recounted without any reaction. The many stories of torture and execution affecting family, friends, students, and colleagues lead the reader to expect (finally) an outcry of heart-wrenching despair by the author. It never comes. Chapters just stop and the "other shoe never drops."

I really began to wonder whether this "intellectual" brought anything of value to her classrooms. Hopefully those versed in literary criticism will consider her literary analyses valuable, because it is certain that the rest of the book is an abject failure of humanity. This book reminds me of The Lake With No Name by Diane Wei Liang: self-involved introspection in the midst of totalitarian rule and generalized misery.

The only benefit that I received from finishing this self-involved, navel-gazing reflection is to recall once more why the mixture of religion and politics or literature and politics always proves dangerous to the health and safety of ordinary people.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A little bit memoir, a little bit dissertation., 31 July 2007
By 
maya j (Quail Crossing) - See all my reviews
'Reading Lolita in Tehran' is definitely not a mainstream "chick-lit" book, nor a highly literary work of non-fiction, nor a basic memoir- it's a combination of all three. "Reading Lolita" has many things it's trying to accomplish, and this is where I think it falls short.

I must admit, it took me a few chapters to get into "Reading Lolita". I thought it was going to be a strict memoir, and when she digressed into these elaborate dissertations on (especially Lolita), I found myself getting bored. Now, I'm not one to ever eschew an intellectual conversation or debate on ANYTHING, but I really wanted to hear about the girls and their lives and Azar Nafisi's life in this horrible theocratic regime. I also wanted to know how they managed to get away with reading such blasphemous stuff. When Azar Nafisi talked of these things, I couldn't put the book down, but when she started on her diatribes and nuanced descriptions of "Lolita", Nabokov, Fitzgerald and Austen, I found my mind wandering, wondering, "What am I going to wear tomorrow?" I suppose if I had picked up a book entitled, "The In-Depth Analysis of Vladimir Nabokov and Lolita", I wouldn't have felt that way, but as you know, this isn't that book. As the book progressed, I really did have affection for some of the characters, and I truly felt scared for them and hoped that this book didn't have a horrible ending like all the women getting executed in a soccer field or something. Luckily, we didn't have to deal with that, but I wish Azar Nafisi would write a book JUST talking about the lives and feelings and situations of young women in Iran, so that people throughout the world can really figure out what's going on over there. Unfortunately, I believe that would be hard for Nafisi to do. She is definitely an intellectual, and I think her interest lies in absolutely dissecting fiction in a way that no one else is interested in, and I believe she is a bit self-promoting.

Finally, I do believe this book is worth reading. I learned some things about what was going on when the Ayatollah was in power- things I didn't realize- and I did find myself sort of missing "the girls" after I read the last page and closed the book. If I could have, I would have made the rating 3-1/2 stars just for a little added oomph to her rating.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Of Literary Criticism, Repression and Revolutionary Horrors, 20 Oct 2004
By 
Donald Mitchell "Jesus Loves You!" (Thanks for Providing My Reviews over 124,000 Helpful Votes Globally) - See all my reviews
(HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (TOP 500 REVIEWER)    (VINE VOICE)   
This book will appeal most to those who want to understand what it has been like to be a Western educated and liberated woman in Iran since the Iranian revolution began against the shah. If you also enjoy English literary criticism and analysis, you will have a great treat ahead of you. If hearing about injustice and brutality upset you, you will like this book less well.
The format of this book is most unusual. I predict that you will either find the format intriguing or maddening, depending on how flexible you are in your appreciation of new styles. Professor Nafisi writes her memoir of those years in a sort of semi-diary form. The observations are filled with nuance about the people in her life, the nature of her life, her thoughts and how what's going on reflects the concerns of four novelists, Nabokov (especially through Lolita), Fitzgerald (especially through The Great Gatsby), James (especially through Daisy Miller and The Ambassadors), and Austen (especially through Pride and Prejudice). Against this literary and personal backdrop, violent events explode every few pages as the Islamic Republic is established and begins its crackdown on women and dissidents. Later, the Iran-Iraq war provides similar moments of violence.
The literary-real life nexus is related to Professor Nafisi having been an English literature professor in Tehran when the revolution began. At first, she still taught in the university. Later she resigned. Still later, she agreed to return in full Muslim regalia for women. Then, she quit again and began teaching a secret class for her most devoted students in her home.
The book opens with a lyrical description of the home teaching experience in the context of Lolita, which the group was studying. After that section, the book moves back in time and proceeds in chronological fashion through the author's decision to leave Iran to relocate with her family in the United States.
This book taught me many things. First, I had no idea of the degree of repression and oppression that has occurred in Iran. Second, I was intrigued by how Professor Nafisi tried to live a decent, meaningful life in this difficult context. Her life is a good example for all who like to help others. Third, I was impressed by the way she could use student reactions to literature as a way of explaining what their culture and experiences have been like. For instance, her women students usually did not date, but were trying to understand complex relationships between people of the opposite sex who were attracted to one another. There was a difficult experience void to fill. In addition, the more literal male students would associate any immoral action taken by any character as suggesting that the book is immoral and that the author approved of the action . . . even if the character later suffered the direst consequences because of the action. Fourth, our freedom in the United States is vastly more precious than we realize. Reading about what it's like to have a religion running the country is an important lesson that we should all be aware of.
Professor Nafisi is a thoughtful, insightful and caring person. I enjoyed learning about her as well. Many of her students also appealed to me, and I enjoyed finding out how they dealt with their challenges.
Be free!
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An insight into everyday Tehran, 23 Aug 2004
This review is from: Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books (Paperback)
This is a story of everyday life in Iran, seen from the perspective of a female professor and her students who are young women.
For anyone who has lived under similar social restrictions, the book is an accurate description of what women have to go through in such communities and how even a simple walk in the park can become an act of rebellion.
For those who have not experienced closed socities at first hand, this story gives you a rare glimpse into what reality is for some people.
The students' dreams and aspirations are inspiring in their determination yet also touching in face of all the obstacles that they have to face.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The sad question in Summer 2009, 18 Aug 2009
By 
M Oliver "wordspace" (Barcombe Mills, Sussex, UK) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books (Paperback)
Not so much a review as a leading question: one is compelled to ask, in view of the present situation in Iran, what has happened to those seven women today? The author is said to be teaching at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, USA. Lucky for some. But the others, have they replaced one repressive regime with another? What is life like for them? Do they stand on their rooftops every evening and call out Salaam Aleikum? Well, how can we know, we who can only read the papers and watch the news bulletins on TV? The Western view today is the same as it was when Reading "Lolita" in Tehran: A Memoir in Books was written: the regime is repressive. But we all were told to believe that Saddam had WMD, and look where that got us ...
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A little bit memoir, a little bit dissertation., 31 July 2007
By 
maya j (Quail Crossing) - See all my reviews
'Reading Lolita in Tehran' is definitely not a mainstream "chick-lit" book, nor a highly literary work of non-fiction, nor a basic memoir- it's a combination of all three. "Reading Lolita" has many things it's trying to accomplish, and this is where I think it falls short.

I must admit, it took me a few chapters to get into "Reading Lolita". I thought it was going to be a strict memoir, and when she digressed into these elaborate dissertations on (especially Lolita), I found myself getting bored. Now, I'm not one to ever eschew an intellectual conversation or debate on ANYTHING, but I really wanted to hear about the girls and their lives and Azar Nafisi's life in this horrible theocratic regime. I also wanted to know how they managed to get away with reading such blasphemous stuff. When Azar Nafisi talked of these things, I couldn't put the book down, but when she started on her diatribes and nuanced descriptions of "Lolita", Nabokov, Fitzgerald and Austen, I found my mind wandering, wondering, "What am I going to wear tomorrow?" I suppose if I had picked up a book entitled, "The In-Depth Analysis of Vladimir Nabokov and Lolita", I wouldn't have felt that way, but as you know, this isn't that book. As the book progressed, I really did have affection for some of the characters, and I truly felt scared for them and hoped that this book didn't have a horrible ending like all the women getting executed in a soccer field or something. Luckily, we didn't have to deal with that, but I wish Azar Nafisi would write a book JUST talking about the lives and feelings and situations of young women in Iran, so that people throughout the world can really figure out what's going on over there. Unfortunately, I believe that would be hard for Nafisi to do. She is definitely an intellectual, and I think her interest lies in absolutely dissecting fiction in a way that no one else is interested in, and I believe she is a bit self-promoting.

Finally, I do believe this book is worth reading. I learned some things about what was going on when the Ayatollah was in power- things I didn't realize- and I did find myself sort of missing "the girls" after I read the last page and closed the book. If I could have, I would have made the rating 3-1/2 stars just for a little added oomph to her rating.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars When you set out to rid the world of evil...., 12 July 2007
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I was enjoying this book while reading it over the Christmas holiday but returning to it several months later I found it tough to get into again - first it is written by a university professor, and not the kind who is going to give you good marks just for showing up! I enjoyed the references to literature but I was left a bit dispirited - had I to write an essay on them I would certainly fail, an uneasy feeling I had not studied hard enough, and a bit cheated! But the main oppression comes from the setting - the Iranian Revolution, the Iran-Iraq War, and the increasing rigidity of the Islamic Republic. The effect could not have been felt more than by the author - a female, liberal teacher of Western literature!

It would be wrong to assume Azar Nafsi is representative of the Iranian people, but her story, and that of her students, friends and family is still valid. It gives an insight into the Revolution which promised so much to so many, the valiant fight over rights, eg. the wearing of the veil, which all became futile when faced with increasing oppression from the State.

This is largely a personal story of one person's struggle - how much should you dedicate yourself to oppose the dictates and absurdities of a government, and at what point does it take over your life? How much value do you place on personal freedom? How much to belonging to a home, a community, a country?

For me though, the real lesson was that whatever the rhetoric or stance of the Iranian (or any) Government, we all need to remember the Iranian (all) people are individuals, each with their own hopes and fears, a private life (even if not one as openly and bravely expressed as here).

What of "Lolita," literature and the arts? - the impression given here is that their worth increases the more powers try to tell us what to think; the need to imagine, to place ourselves in the other person's shoes - is both an escape and a revelation. Timely lessons for us all!

Not a light read, but very worthwhile.

{As far as I can tell this version is identical to that published by 'Fourth Estate' - only the cover is different, and the price!}
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Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books
Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books by Azar Nafisi (Paperback - 2 Feb 2004)
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