“Reading Lolita in Tehran” by Azar Nafisi


“A great novel heightens your senses and sensitivity to the complexities of life and of individuals, and prevents you from the self-righteousness that sees morality in fixed formulas about good and evil.”

–          Azar Nafisi

I can hardly resist any opportunity to discuss or debate Lolita and hence had picked up this book but don’t be fooled by the title. The book should come with a warning “This book doesn’t only discuss Lolita” and a mandatory reading list.  In fact the book is divided into 4 parts on: Nabakov, Fitzgerald, Henrbooksy James and Jane Austen. The book not only discusses several works by these authors but also alludes to works by several other authors. Although I had read a number of books among those discussed, but hadn’t even heard of several others and thus the book made me feel illiterate and I have a pile of books to be read post this.

The novel is written in different time zones before, during and after the Islamic Revolution in Iran. Most revolutions or wars do not affect the common man who doggedly adheres to a fixed routine and tried to maintain normalcy. The Islamic Revolution however affected the common man by taking away all the basic freedoms- even the freedom to wear and talk the way you want to. The novel gives a good insight into how deeply it affected the common man. Even literature was banned.

All books are discussed from their perspective of living in a totalitarian regime. Humbert tried to control his dream- Lolita and in the process destroys the dream itself, similar to the regime trying to control all its subjects. Gatsby destroys himself in achieving his dream.  Interestingly, the Islamic Regime has taught them to weigh and judge everything in terms of morality. Thus the book Great Gatsby was put on trial to see if it was worthy to read in an Islamic country. This was an interesting part as sections of books were portrayed in defense of its own morality and the offense just harped on the teaching of Islamic Revolution without perhaps even reading the book.  It is a good satire on how ridiculous you can be to weigh literature in terms of morality?

What is missing in the book is that it is too impersonal. Thus although Nafisi narrates the book in first person, she describes and discusses the books in great detail and also the lives of all people around her but she doesn’t delve at all on the emotional impact the external events had on her. Even her family is hardly even discussed. The book is more of a literary and intellectual discussion and the reader would hardly feel connected to the people in the novel.

Nevertheless a good read!!

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A dreamer. An intellectual, spoiled by the world of literature trying to find sanity through traveling and expression through Visual Art and writing! Hope you like my expressions on this blog!!

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