Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi
A Memoir in Books

76%

14 Critic Reviews

A spirited tribute both to the classics of world literature and to resistance against oppression.
-Kirkus

Synopsis

We all have dreams—things we fantasize about doing and generally never get around to. This is the story of Azar Nafisi’s dream and of the nightmare that made it come true.

For two years before she left Iran in 1997, Nafisi gathered seven young women at her house every Thursday morning to read and discuss forbidden works of Western literature. They were all former students whom she had taught at university. Some came from conservative and religious families, others were progressive and secular; several had spent time in jail. They were shy and uncomfortable at first, unaccustomed to being asked to speak their minds, but soon they began to open up and to speak more freely, not only about the novels they were reading but also about themselves, their dreams and disappointments. Their stories intertwined with those they were reading—Pride and Prejudice, Washington Square, Daisy Miller and Lolita—their Lolita, as they imagined her in Tehran.

Nafisi’s account flashes back to the early days of the revolution, when she first started teaching at the University of Tehran amid the swirl of protests and demonstrations. In those frenetic days, the students took control of the university, expelled faculty members and purged the curriculum. When a radical Islamist in Nafisi’s class questioned her decision to teach The Great Gatsby, which he saw as an immoral work that preached falsehoods of “the Great Satan,” she decided to let him put Gatsby on trial and stood as the sole witness for the defense.

Azar Nafisi’s luminous tale offers a fascinating portrait of the Iran-Iraq war viewed from Tehran and gives us a rare glimpse, from the inside, of women’s lives in revolutionary Iran. It is a work of great passion and poetic beauty, written with a startlingly original voice.


From the Hardcover edition.
 

About Azar Nafisi

See more books from this Author
Azar Nafisi is a professor at Johns Hopkins University. She won a fellowship from Oxford and taught English literature at the University of Tehran, the Free Islamic University and Allameh Tabatabai University in Iran. She was expelled from the University of Tehran for refusing to wear the veil and left Iran for America in 1997. She has written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal and The New Republic, and is the author of Anti-Terra: A Critical Study of Vladimir Nabokov's Novels. She lives in Washington, D.C., with her husband and two children.
 
Published December 30, 2003 by Random House. 384 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, Religion & Spirituality, Education & Reference, Literature & Fiction, Business & Economics. Non-fiction
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Critic reviews for Reading Lolita in Tehran
All: 14 | Positive: 13 | Negative: 1

Kirkus

Above average

A spirited tribute both to the classics of world literature and to resistance against oppression.

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Guardian

Good
Reviewed by Paul Allen on Sep 12 2003

This is a highly personal memoir combined with literary criticism, but even that description needs qualifying. The students whose developing stories are part of its pleasure have been disguised for their own protection.

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Guardian

Good
on Sep 13 2003

The charismatic passion in the book is not simply for literature itself but for the kind of inspirational teaching of it which helps students to teach themselves by applying their own intelligence and emotions to what they are reading.

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Publishers Weekly

Above average

Nafisi has produced an original work on the relationship between life and literature.

Read Full Review of Reading Lolita in Tehran: A M... | See more reviews from Publishers Weekly

Blog Critics

Excellent
on Jul 09 2003

This book left me deeply sad for days. I felt the heavy blessing of my own freedom. I cannot more highly recommend this book. It is a new perspective.

Read Full Review of Reading Lolita in Tehran: A M... | See more reviews from Blog Critics

Entertainment Weekly

Above average
on Apr 11 2003

Although long quotes from lectures and familiar books bog down her narrative, Nafisi relates her girls' moving stories with quiet sympathy.

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Slate

Above average
on Nov 30 2006

Reading Lolita stands to, say, Milosz's The Captive Mind rather as Bridget Jones stands to Elizabeth Bennet.

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National Review Online

Good
on Nov 03 2006

Indeed, at its best, it offers an occasion for hungry readers — be they Iranian or American — to experience the transformative power of words for themselves.

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Project MUSE

Above average

Reading Lolita in Tehran is both an account of the devastating rise of Islamicism in Iran since the Islamic Republic was established and a textual engagement with the literary works that helped her cope with it.

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Project MUSE

Above average

To read Azar Nafisi's elegantly crafted Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books is to enter two worlds simultaneously.

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India Today

Good
on Feb 23 2004

It is reading as rebellion, literature as liberation and rejoinder.

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DC Spotlight Newspaper

Good
on Nov 01 2012

One doesn’t need to have read any of the literature discussed in the book or even have a prior understanding of the history of the Islamic Republic in order to appreciate the women’s dilemmas and the solace they find in books.

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Teen Ink

Good

Nafisi's memoir showed me a new side of literature.

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Teen Ink

Good
on Nov 25 2009

It is an unforgettable account of an English professor during the Islamic Revolution and the power of literature to influence a woman's life.

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Reader Rating for Reading Lolita in Tehran
65%

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