Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi (part 1)

Life in Iran under Taliban rule was especially restrictive and oppressive of intellectual women. As laws became more and more extreme, education became gender segregated and often women were stopped from seeking higher education, or any education at all. In addition to this, the sale of western literature was banned as it was deemed impure by the government. In this setting it became nearly impossible for young female students to learn without somehow offending the law. However, the courageous students of this novel rebel against their oppression by secretly meeting in a sort of book club format. Here, they discuss banned books as well as their personal lives amid the changing world around them. The title references the famous book “Lolita” by Vladimir Nabokov, which is the central book that the audience sees discussed by the group.

Each student, of whom there are seven, are each completely different characters. My personal favorite of  them is Azin, who clashes with her conservative Muslim peers in the group, Mahshid and Manna. The narrator, the ex-professor and group leader, remains completely unbiased through their quarrels though, which sort of aggravated me. While Azin could certainly be described as “saucy,” she is also honest and her thoughts are not restricted by her desire to please religious cohorts.  Though their community is becoming dangerous and taking away individual freedoms, the group still deals with universal conflicts. I really enjoyed in this book the point that Nafisi makes about how the audience can relate to many of the characters’ struggles though they live very different lives.

Another parallel I saw between the group and my own life was how similar they are to my English class. As I said before each character has her own backstory. Some are shy, while others are outgoing and some are more confident while others are quiet. A few characters I could even match to exact counterparts in my class. But just in general, these students reminded me of those I knew because of their shared dedication and love of books.

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One response to “Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi (part 1)

  1. julialiningerwhite

    Part 2
    I was first drawn to this book because of the title. At the time I didn’t know the book “Lolita” that it referenced, or that it took place during Taliban occupation. However, something about the words sounded very pleasant to me, and for that reason I decided to read the book. Though my snap-judgement about the book was pretty naive, the title catchy title remained in my head throughout reading the story. One of the central books the book club focuses on is “Lolita.” This is a somber tale of a young girl who is made into the child bride of an old, cruel man named Humbert., Her innocence is stolen from the beginning of their marriage, and throughout the book she is deprived again and again of basic comforts and nurturing. As the real world in the story progresses, it becomes clear that the reader is supposed to draw parallels between the tale of Lolita and their own lives. The female students are deprived of their education, and like Lolita, robbed of their future. Their paths become constrained by the male figures in their life, the brothers, fathers, and uncles act as the “Humberts” of their story. Only through the book club are the girls able to defy this. While the individual stories are quite different, they suffer the same struggle at the hands of those who look down on them because of their gender. But the students are given a chance to break free from their oppressor. The fact that they find away to enrich themselves and each other in an environment that threatens their existence as intellectuals makes the book enjoyable and uplifting. I loved reading this because it showed their struggles but also their unity and ability to progress through pain as a group.

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