Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books
By Azar Nafisi
While learning at the University of Oklahoma Nafisi often spoke publicly at the World Confederation of Iranian Students against the political infiltration of America into the Islamic Republic of Iran. She spoke passionately at these rallies often remembering and referring to her favourite books from authors including Austen, Elliot, Fitzgerald, Nabokov, and Plath.
Years later Nafisi discovers the true power of literature when she returns to Iran to teach in the English Department at University of Tehran. Outside her classes bombs were falling on the city and students often found it hard to attend classes if they where coinciding with various political rallies. By 1995, Nafisi grew fed up with the increasing oppression of the women in Iran and refused to wear a veil to teach in her classes. The increasing threats and controls being forced on her beloved books and how she herself taught their contents led to the creation of a secret literature class.
In the privacy of Nafisi’s home, seven carefully selected female students could unveil themselves and talk freely of Western Literature. Each student’s interpretation was strong, articulate, and passionate. What started, as a course on literature became a porthole for the discussion of political ideas so near the surface but unable to be spoken out in the streets against their religious political oppressors.
The fear that each could be harmed for their actions led Nafisi to change their names and mix their personalities so none could be identified from here book. Nafisi writes clearly and concisely of the life, she and her students lead in and out of the class.
Nafisi was acquainted with artists, such as the Magician, who refused to participate and began to live his life as a recluse so as not to suffer the indignity of having his artistic expressions destroyed or be killed because of them. This and other examples of unnecessary abuse on Iranian citizens took its toll on women in Iran.
In the end, Nafisi begins to see that even though she is passively rebelling against the Islam extremists they are winning as they govern every aspect of her being and finally she and a number of her students escape Iran before they can are destroyed with it.