Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi
5/11/2007-5/30/2007–343 pages–memoir (Islamic Republic of Iran, women, society, education)
Bought summer ’06 from Waldenbooks
Well, seeing as this book was read for the bookclub, most of my feelings have already been discussed. There was one more quote pointed out by another member that I liked–
“Whoever fights monsters should see that in the process he does not become a monster.” ~Nietzsche (p180)
Thinking about that, I’m reminded of A Wind in the Door–“It is the nature of hate to destroy.” And A Swiftly Tilting Planet–“Hate hurts the hater more ‘n the hated.”
Overall, Nafisi’s style didn’t suit me, mostly because of her lack of transition. So that’s why the rate is so low.
—Part 1, May 13, 2007—
The first part of this book, Lolita, was interesting, but at the same time a little confusing for me.
First what was interesting…
I like how Nafisi described each of her students right from the get go. By doing this, it will help me figure out why they may act or respond to certain things. The girls who are more religious (Mashshid and Sanaz) may keep a safter, more conservative stance on some issues that creep up during discussions. And their discussions could still be more uninhibited due to the censor of the window. What is seen through the window is completely different from the women’s every day life, and it helped them to forget they had to act as others would want them to. By forgetting all that was “wrong” with their world, they were able to feel more comfortable in their own skin, even if they orally can’t define themselves.
During this part, Nafisi also explains many problems with the Islamic Republic of Iran. For instance, why she quit as a professor. The system was under such strict regulation, all had difficulty teaching properly for worry of using something bad. It’s sort of the way the NCLB Act worries me, but I know it’s on a smaller scale because it won’t be as strict as the IRI. Aside from school, there’s also the role of women and how it’s changed. I’ll use of quote of Nafisi speaking of Scheherazade in A Thousand and One Nights. “The virgins, who, unlike Sheherazade, have no voice in the story, are mostly ignored…They surrender their virginity and their lives, without resistance or pretest. They do not quite exist…” The virgins resemble the women in the IRI. They are “seen” as invisible (“they do not quite exist”) and they are submissive to their male relatives (“without resistance”). Although Nafisi doesn’t directly point this similarity out, I think that’s why she included it.
Another aspect of the woman role in the IRI Nafisi included at the end of the part the difference between generations. Nafisi’s generation was able to experience everything which came to be outlawed. But the generation of her students barely glimpsed the freedom once felt. They may be envious because they hear about the women complaining of missing it and so it, therefore, must be worth wanting. So, is what Khaled Hosseini said in The Kite Runner true? “It always hurts more to have and lose than to not have in the first place.” There could be many answers.
Nafisi also explains that the girls are never able to see themselves clearly. They, like many women probably, can only see themselves as they should be, through others’ eyes. Even when the window censors out the daily life they can’t see themselves as they are, even if they can act as themselves.
So now, for what a bit confusing. At the beginning of Chapter 10, Nafisi declares that they, the women/girls, are not Lolita, that the government is not Humbert, and that Iran is not Humbert’s world. But in every way Nafisi describes anything in Lolita, it seems so similar to the life of Iranian women she describes. Now, I’ve never read Lolita, so I can’t say they are the same. Because I don’t personally know much about Iranian women either. But I see similarities between both anytime one is mentioned. Am I misunderstanding Nafisi? Because I can’t figure out why. On page 50, Manna is describing ways the IRI is similar to Lolita. But Nafisi said they weren’t. I’ll have to ask someone.
—Part 2, May 22, 2007—
While reading this second part, “Gatsby”, I was a bit confused at first. The part was so unlike the first and I wasn’t sure at first if I liked it. The first part was more about Nafisi’s bookclub than about her life story. But I did like actually learning her past. The change in presentation was just sudden.
Secondly, I liked this part because I have read The Great Gatsby and so I knew why the literary allusions were significant. Now, I didn’t particularly enjoy reading the book for school, but I still understood what was happening.
“America can’t do a damn thing against us! This is not a struggle between the US and Iran, it’s a struggle between Islam and blasphemy” (p104). This is a nice thought, but the US must always be involved with everything. Case and point: Korean & Vietnam wars.
I loved the whole conversation about the American Dream. It was practically American Studies from three years ago all over again, but with a better understanding. During the trial of Gatsby in Nafisi’s class, the Muslims felt that he was at fault because the fiction had the ability to persuade readers it was true and should be taken as fact. “There was, for Mr. Nyazi, no difference between the fiction of Fitzgerald and the facts of his own life” (p120). But that quote really depicts the idea that fiction and reality are different. Take Zarrin’s closing of the trial: “Did people all go on strike or head west after reading Steinbeck? Did they go whaling after reading Melville? Are people not a little more complex than that” (p135). She points out that by arguing fiction as reality, you are really only arguing your own ignorance to not be able to tell the difference. This is what my mom argues when I read Harry Potter.
“Americans have a dream: they feel nostalgia about the promise of the future” p109
“The dream is not about money, but what he imagines he can become. It is not a comment on America as a materialistic country, but as an idealistic one, one that has turned money into a means of retrieving a dream” p142
—Part 3, May 23, 2007—
So I finished the third section for the discussion. This part mainly dealt with the war between Iran and Iraq and her formal expulsion from the university.
My favorite part was the story Nafisi recorded from her friend Lelah about the security guard and the chase 🙂 It was very hilarious.
I found the way Nafisi described her days after expulsion, feeling “fictional,” was interesting. It seems very possible of all people, well women at least, to have an identity crisis when someone is trying to make all the same. I have a feeling Nafisi as a fictional character probably felt she was in a nightmarish story. The conformation of Nafisi reminds me of all those dystopic novels I’ve read before with mindless drones for people (Anthem, The Giver, etc.)
I also found Nafisi’s moral dilemma interesting: wearing the veil or not educating thousands of minds? I don’t know what I would’ve done if I’d been in her place. Maybe the same, but I hope it never comes down to a choice like that for me (or anyone else).
—Part 4, May 24, 2007—
As I’m realizing, I don’t really care for Nafisi’s organization. It’s clearly not chronologically presented, nor really spatially. Most of it may be chronological in general, but the randomness of parts about the books really messes me up. I find I enjoy the writing more if any passages dealing with literature and allusions are left out. For instance, Chapter 23 was completely irrelevant. The chapter just included a short biography of Henry James. But wait–isn’t this a memoir of Nafisi? Whose life am I reading to learn about? The only relevant point brought out in this chapter is found in the last paragraph. Another time at least Nafisi forewarns in the first sentence she’s digressing from her own life (26).
“Live all you can; it’s a mistake not to. It doesn’t so much matter what you do in particular so long as you have your life. If you haven’t had that what have you had?” (Henry James p247)
“It takes courage to die for a cause, but also to live for one” (p249).
—Part 5, May 30, 2007—
Well, as with the Gatsby section, I liked this more because I’d read the material being discussed. But, thinking back, I don’t really think Nafisi was discussing books so much as just finishing her period of life in Iran.
At the beginning of this part, Nafisi finally really returns to the class and her girls. There was a chapter dealing with the structure of Austen’s works. I really loved the analogy, but it was basically irrelevant to the story. Speaking of analogies, at the end Nafisi says living in the IRI is like sleeping with a man you loathe. This was also a good analogy and actually relevant too 🙂
I would like to point out a few connections I thought of. First, many people were afraid to leave for the US because they knew they’d probably have to start overa gain. There was a Boy Meets World episode (“Security Guy” Seaso 4, Episode 20) in which Eric doesn’t want to attempt the SATs and he just gets a job rather than going to college. His fellow seecurity guard, from the Middle East, had been an engineer, but had to prove that again in the US. It made me realize people are willing to do all the schooling again because they just need to be here, in the US. I commend these people.
The other connection, if you’d call it that, was figuring out Nafisi’s writing style. I think she basically wrote with few transitions making it seem so random. And I realized that is how one writes in a diary. If it’d been in diary form, it would’ve been simpler to read so as to not really confuse.
A favorite passage: “Things that come naturally to me are considered sinful, so how am I supposed to act?” (p326, Mitra)