Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Reading Lolita in Tehran

Two young and pretty girls, wearing black scarves are bent over something...and it looks like they are reading something. That is the image on the the cover of this book and that is somehow an image that stays with you for quite a while..

As part of the orbis terrarum challenge, the first book that I decided to read was "Reading Lolita in Tehran" by Azar Nafisi. I have been meaning to read this book for a while and this seemed like the perfect time. This book is perfect for this challenge. It is like a journey across the world and my first stop - Iran.

A little about Iran before continuing with the discussion of the book. Iran was known as Persia until 1935. Islam is the official religion, Farsi is the official language. It is in Central Eurasia. It is home to one of the world's oldest continuous major civilizations. Tehran is the largest city and the capital of Iran. The rial is Iran's official currency.

Now, coming to the book...

I remember reading Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov a long time ago - I was too young to appreciate the complexity of english literature then and just read it for the story and the fact that it was a controversial book. It is definitely a book that I need to read again. The very name "Reading Lolita in Tehran" tells you so much about the book.. even before you start reading it. It brings to mind a clash of beliefs, a rebellious attitude and a struggle to maintain your individuality! The book is about all this and much more.

The book is divided into four sections. It starts with "Lolita". But of course, lolita is not the only book discussed in this section. They even discuss "An invitation to a beheading". In this section, apart from discussing these books, nafisi also talks about leaving the university of tehran and starting the thursday morning book club with a few of her favorite students.
The next section is "Gatsby". Along with the dissection of the novel and the author (and other works by the author), the story of nafisi goes into a "flashback" mode. Here she talks about the begininng of the islamic revolution in Iran.
The next two sections are "James" and "Austen". As the names suggest, the works of the two authors are discusses, characters are compared, etc. Nafisi's life that is described in the section "James" chrologically follows the "Gatsby" section. The part of her life discussed in the "Austen" section is the final part where she leaves Iran and her students and moves to the US.

Overall, this is a beautiful book. It satisfies your thirst for literature with an in depth analysis of all those classic novels (i have mentally made a note to read every single one of the novels discussed in this book again. maybe, i'll see it in a new light after reading all the discussions in this book!). At the same time, there is an accurate portrayal of life in Iran during the onset of the Islamic Revolution and the period following it. Under the strict Islamic rule, the girls have been forced to lead a rather repressed life. Reading these books helped them more than it would ever help anyone living in a free world. At times, it almost seemed like they were living vicariously through the lives of the characters in the book they were reading.

I could go on and on talking about this book and the characters and of course the books they discuss.. but i would like to stop here. But if you love literature and love reading about other countries, this is a perfect book for you!


bethany said...

I have this book, but haven't read it yet. That was a great review!!! Yes, I did read Farmworker's Daughter for the Orbis Terrarum Challenge, I know it isn't a very far-away place, but the book is about immigrants to the US. Mostly I did it because I know that I will read more than 9 international books in 9 months, so I just wanted to get things started. I love reading about different countries and right now I am very intrigued by the middle east, sounds like I should read your book next!!! I just finished Moving Parts by Magdalena Tulli (Poland) and next, I don't know what I will read next.

Great review though!! I will read this one soon.

Pratima said...

hey Ramya, just wanted to know if it is a better option to have read all the novels mentioned in this book, before reading this? Or can I still pick this up and then read the other novels?

Ramya said...

hey pratima, you don't have to have necessarily read the books discussed in RLIT. The author gives enough description about the books for you to know what she is talking about.. i hadn't read any book by James before i started RLIT but i enjoyed that section nevertheless.. so i don't think you need to worry about that!:)