By: Azar Nafisi
Every Thursday morning for two years in the Islamic Republic of Iran, a bold and inspired teacher named Azar Nafisi secretly gathered seven of her most committed female students to read forbidden Western classics. As Islamic morality squads staged arbitrary raids in Tehran, fundamentalists seized hold of the universities, and a blind censor stifled artistic expression, the girls in Azar Nafisi’s living room risked removing their veils and immersed themselves in the worlds of Jane Austen, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Henry James, and Vladimir Nabokov. In this extraordinary memoir, their stories become intertwined with the ones they are reading. Reading Lolita in Tehran is a remarkable exploration of resilience in the face of tyranny and a celebration of the liberating power of literature.
Completion: I was fortunate enough to read this book during a couple of really rainy days last summer. I became completely absorbed in Nafisi’s world. Stuck in my house, I began to understand in the smallest sense how Nafisi and her girls must have felt, imagining what it would be like to walk out my door and find my world altered beyond recognition.
Writing/Style: The story is well-written with beautiful sentences and thoughtful content.
Characters: Not surprisingly for nonfiction, the characters are full of life and personality. Nafisi is observant as she is generous to her subjects, treating them with the depth and complexity they deserve.
Plot/Pacing: The plot is on par with most nonfiction pieces: perfect for immersion and the satisfaction of the journey.
World-building/Atmosphere: Nafisi brings Tehran to the reader through gorgeous description and colorful characters. As far as atmosphere goes, the story by its very nature holds moments of tension; however, that tension never overshadows the bond of these women and the determination of Nafisi’s teaching spirit.
Sub-genres (Romance, Humor, Mystery, etc.): Nafisi explores the literature of her clandestine classroom with the same detail that she explores Tehran. While I haven’t read all of the classics on her class’s reading list, her analysis of them within the context of Tehran was fascinating as well as enlightening, and I can’t wait to reread this memoir once I have read all of the books on her list.
FINAL VERDICT: Those who do not have the patience for literary analysis might find sections of this memoir tiring; however, those with patience — and preferably appreciation for the literary — will also find a heartbreaking narrative that is powerful as it is sublime.