Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books by Azar Nafisi
Best for: People interested in one story of life under authoritarian governments.
In a nutshell: A professor uses literature as the framework for her memoir of life teaching in Iran.
Line that sticks with me: “Lack of empathy was to my mind the central sin of the regime, from which all the others flowed.”
Why I chose it: I flew the weekend after the election, and saw this in the airport. I figured perhaps it would be good to study up on life under leadership that doesn’t view everyone equally.
Review: I’d heard about this book many times before, and thought it was all about a group of young girls who got together to read literature that they couldn’t access in other venues. That’s not entirely accurate. Instead it is the memoir of a professor that includes, in some parts, a group of women in their 20s getting together with the professor to discuss literature.
The book is organized into four parts, each using an author as the background to the events. It does not go chronologically; it jumps around a bit, which I found somewhat challenging, although I think it ultimately works well.
The book spends a lot of time exploring what it means to both receive an education and try to educate others with the implementing many strict rules. Dr. Nafisi spends a fair bit of time, for example, looking at what it would mean to follow the requirement to wear the veil, as she would not choose to wear one if it were not mandated. Is that a fight that it is worth undertaking if it means she would not be able to share her lectures with her students?
I think one of the more shocking things for me was how almost casually the author discusses how many people – including some of her own students – are thrown in jail for years for seemingly minor issues. And then they are released and it’s … it’s a big deal but also not surprising. It’s terrifying, and I have to say that given the utterly despicable things the 45th president has done in just the last eight days, I don’t think it’s too ridiculous to think it could happen here, too.
Before reading this book, I knew very little about Iran in the 80s and 90s. And obviously reading one book does not mean I know much more than I did before. But through the lovely writing of Dr. Nafisi, I feel like I understand some of the different perspectives of those living under the regime.