Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Book Review: Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi

I'm having a really hard time trying to figure out how I feel about this book.

To be completely honest, it was a bit too disjointed for me. There was some skipping around time-wise as well as one moment Nafisi writing about her "secret class", the next writing about being a teacher, then suddenly delving into Iranian politics. It's simply not well-organized.

I have to find myself at fault a bit because while I've read some Henry James, all but one Austen novel and of course The Great Gatsby, I have not read Lolita and yes, you probably need to read that novel - as well as Daisy Miller and Washington Square - to get the full scope of Reading Lolita in Tehran.

Still, this memoir was just a bit slow, a bit plodding, at times. I am glad I read it - glad I've learned more about living in Iran during the revolution and whatnot - but I think that people should know what they're getting into before reading this. If you're not interested in Middle Eastern politics; if you haven't read the aforementioned novels; and if you really don't care for time-skipping in any book, I can't suggest Reading Lolita. However, if you can forgive the disjointed writing and would care to know more about Middle Eastern (specifically Iranian) politics and have read most of the novels I mentioned (but especially, especially Lolita) I say go for it and form your own opinion :) Because there are at least a lot of insightful points in this memoir. 3.5/5 stars.

"Reality has become so intolerable, she said, so bleak, that all I can paint now are the colors of my dreams."

"In a place where all citizens are required to be transparent, he is opaque."

"Every great work of art, I would declare pompously, is a celebration, an act of insubordination against the betrayals, horrors and infidelities of life."

"'I think...that an adulterous woman is much better than a hypocritical one.'"

"' takes two to create a relationship, and when you make half the population invisible, the other half suffers as well.'"

"We in ancient countries have our past - we obsess over the past. They, the Americans, have a dream: they feel nostalgia about the promise of the future."

"...value your dreams wary of them also...look for integrity in unusual places."

"Dreams...are perfect ideals, complete in themselves. How can you impose them on a constantly changing, imperfect, incomplete reality? You would become a Humbert, destroying the object of your dream; or a Gatsby, destroying yourself."

"I had a feeling that day that I was losing something, that I was mourning a death that had not yet occurred. I felt as if all things personal were being crushed like small wildflowers to make way for a more ornate garden, where everything would be tame and organized. I had never felt this sense of loss when I was a student in the States. In all those years, my yearning was tied to the certainty that home was mine for the having, that I could go back anytime I wished. It was not until I had reached home that I realized the true meaning of exile. As I walked those dearly beloved, dearly remembered streets, I felt I was squashing the memories that lay underfoot."

"Feel, feel, I say - feel for all you're worth, and even if it half kills you, for that is the only way to live..."

"It takes courage to die for a cause, but also to live for one."

"'I know what I don't want, but I don't know what I want.'"

"'Misery loves company - and can be as strong a force as love.'"

"The most intriguing aspect of a relationship: the urge, the longing for the object of desire that is so near and so far."

"...somehow there was little consolation in the fact that millions of people were unhappier than we were. Why should other people's misery make us happier or more content?"

"We are all capable of becoming the blind censor, of imposing our visions and desires on others."

"...memories have ways of becoming independent of the reality they evoke. They can soften us against those we were deeply hurt by or they can make us resent those we once accepted and loved unconditionally."

"For so many years now I had acted as their confessor. They'd poured out their heartaches, their troubles, as if I never had any troubles of my own to cope with, as if I lived under a magic spell that allowed me to avoid all the pitfalls and hardships not just of life in the Islamic Republic but life in general. And now they wanted me to carry the burden of their choices as well. People's choices were their own. They only way you could help them was if you knew what they wanted. How could you tell someone what she should want?"

"Other people's sorrows and joys have a way of reminding us of our own; we partly empathize with them because we ask ourselves: What about me? What does that say about my life, my pains, my anguish?"

"'It's rather superficial, isn't it, to think that the only kind of fear is your kind.'"

"Going away isn't going to help as much as you think. The memory stays with you, and the stain. It's not something you slough off once you leave."

"...none of us can avoid being contaminated by the world's evils; it's all a matter of what attitude you take towards them."

"You get a strange feeling when you're about to leave a you'll not only miss the people you love but you'll miss the person you are now at this time and this place, because you'll never be this way ever again."

"I feel all my life has been a series of departures."

"...we do not need your truths but your fiction - if you're any good, perhaps you can trickle in some sort of truth, but spare us your real feelings." Pin It


  1. I have read those aforementioned books/stories (esp. love Daisy Miller and Gatsby) but from what you posted I now have no desire to read this book. Thank you for the review! I don't like books that don't flow or are hard to follow.

  2. I had a really hard time getting into that book. I read the first 20 pages or so and was so bored I didn't even finish it, which I hate to do.