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July 2013

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Reading Lolita in Tehran & Persepolis

 

Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi and Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi. Literature of Iran; pictured here on my persian rug.

I thought I’d like to start sharing any good books I come across as I read them. I usually have a small tower of books beside my bed at any given moment which constantly shifts as I’m reading and adding new ones. Luckily, with my foresight into the sport of reading stemming from the ridiculous amount of books I already have read as a former English major, most of the books I read I generally like and find really awesome. Here’s one I’ve wanted to read since I did my Contemporary American Literature class with Dr. Linda Morra at Bishop’s.

Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi: Definitely recommended. 

     ’A memoir in books’ as the sub-title says. The autobiographical account of the English professor/author’s days in Iran during the 80s + 90s in post ‘79 Islamic Revolution Tehran. For the most part, the narrative focuses on the author’s relationships with her students, and her reaction to the revolution as well as her insights to feminism in relation to being a woman living in Iran, how it’s different from someone of her generation as opposed to her students, and many other great musings on female psyche of women living in the strict, Islamic context. All with excellent reference to Nabokov, James, Austen, and other famous ‘Western’ literary writers. Her characterizations are excellent, and her similes elegant.  I also learned a lot more about Iranian history, which would also lead me to recommend another book about Iran, ‘Persepolis’, which many of you may already be familiar with. There’s a scene in Persepolis Pt. 1 which you may recall, where a young Marjane chants in her living room, “Down with the Shah!”. This would be just before the ‘79 revolution, where the shah was indeed overthrown, which prompted the islamic revolution, the installation of Ayatollah Khomeini as Iran’s leader, and subsequent reduction of women’s rights. Reading these two books together gives you a really interesting vantage point through two windows into the same historical events. 

     I thought I’d pick this quote to share, from one of the last pages of the book as the author is spending her last days in Iran in 1997 after deciding to move back to America after finally being granted the right to leave Iran. It doesn’t particularly sum up the overall theme of ‘Reading Lolita in Tehran’, but it resonated with me because i’ve so often thought the same way when leaving a place. Going to Germany, coming back from Germany, leaving for University, taking a year away from University, going to Japan, leaving Japan, coming back to university, and then coming back to Halifax. We never really are who we were again. Then again, you could argue that every second we are changing, and that we can never encapsulate exactly who or what we are because we’re in constant motion with time. Neatly, this ties into Humbert’s obsession with preserving time, in Lolita, both through his photographs and his attempts to get her to stay a child forever, but I digress. Here’s the quote:

“I showed the pictures we’d taken in those last few weeks to my magician. You get a strange feeling when you’re about to leave a place, I told him, like 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.”Reading Lolita in Tehran, Azar Nafisi

I’ve always been more of a journalist, or a fiction writer, and I’ve never had the patience for perfecting the art of writing really academic, stylistically correct, sourced, English papers (sorry Dr. Morra). But, I really like the style of English lectures, and the philosophies behind literature interpretation. Englit students will doubtlessly recognize turns of phrase and thought processes in Nafisi’s writings that mimic that of a literature class (in fact, I think there were a few concepts for Lolita that I heard from your class, Dr. Morra) . So if anything you’re also getting a free lecture thrown into the mix, as well as a really excellent reflection, and a must-read book. Go. Read it. Now.