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Reading Lolita in Tehran

A memoir framed through western classics, Azar Nafisi's story of her defying the Islamic Republic of Iran to teach this literature in her country, where anything remotely western is looked down upon, is a gripping and insightful read. The memoir is divided into four sections, Lolita, Gatsby, James, and Austen - each focusing on their titular book or author.
As Nafisi writes in the beginning of part one, about Lolita by Vladmir Nabokov, "Against the tyranny of time and politics, imagine us the way we sometimes didn't dare to imagine ourselves...reading Lolita in Tehran...against all odds." Having read Lolita earlier this year, it was really interesting for me to see Lolita through the eyes of these Iranian women. Nafasi, after quitting her job at the university, decides to hold classes once a week in her home for students who truly want to learn. Part two, Gatsby, about The Great Gatsby F. Scott Fitzgerald, was my favorite section. It takes place 11 years before Lolita (part one). Before reading part two, I decided to read The Great Gatsby so I had a better understanding of what was happening. And I fell in love with the story. Fitzgerald, a writer from the the Lost Generation (a period in American history following World War I), tells the story of Jay Gatsby, a wealthy man hopelessly in love with Daisy (the movie looks fantastic). In Nafisi's class at University, the Islamic fundamentalists denounce the book as a sign of Western decadence and extravagance, claiming it condones adultery. In an exercise, Nafisi decides to put the book on trial, with Mr. Nyazi (leader of the fundamentalists in her class) representing the prosecution and Nafisi representing Gatsby. I won't ruin what happens, but suffice to say, it is truly one of my favorite scenes in the novel. Part three,  James, about Henry James, takes place right after Gatsby (chronologically). The Iran-Iraq war is underway, and Nafisi is expelled from the University of Tehran. Part three served to give the reader a greater sense of Nafisi's backstory and the political/religious climate in Iran. Part four, Austen, about Jane Austen, occurs after Lolita. Pride and Prejudice is the main focus of the section. I had not read Pride and Prejudice, so I decided before reading part four I would read it. I thought it was amazing - I was completely swept up in Elizabeth Bennet's and Mr. Darcy's relationship. In Nafisi's book club, they discuss marriage, men, and sex in Iranian society. Overall, this was a really interesting way to look at Iran - through western literature. I'm glad I had the opportunity to read The Great Gatsby and Pride and Prejudice as companions to Reading Lolita in Tehran. Each of the four parts could be read as their own story; together, they make a masterpiece. Rating: ★★★★★

Cry, The Beloved Country

Harry Potter