I’m wondering if I should give this one another day or two to soak in because I feel myself wavering between this rating and a higher one, but I think that is partially because I really loved the ending of this memoir. I’m not even sure what I accomplish with my ratings because I usually end up changing my mind later on anyway. It will be interesting to see at the end of the year how all the books stack up to what I initially thought of them.
Enough rambling! Reading Lolita in Tehran is the story of an expelled literature professor who takes in seven students for Thursday-morning discussions of the works of fiction they all love. The book is divided into four sections: Lolita, Gatsby, James, Austen. Nafisi’s memoirs go beyond these teaching sessions, though. It seems to me as though her books is two-fold. First, she talks about literature – mainly in the context and with connection to the women’s lives in Tehran. Second, Nafisi talks about the events and their effects on her and her teaching. Let me try it this way: in the first and last section, Nafisi focuses on her book group with the seven students. But then she regresses in the middle to sections to earlier events (about two decades) working her way back up to the book group. While in their own rights I appreciated all of these sections, the organization was confusing. We got to know these girls and their discussion of Lolita but then lose them except for vague references throughout the middle sections until they return in the final section. The point is, sometimes it felt as though Nafisi was trying to take on too much with this book OR that she wasn’t quite sure what she wanted to do and where she wanted to go with it.
For me the best parts of the book were when she was discussing the characters (of the book, not the fictional characters). Because I haven’t read any of the James works discussed or Lolita, sometimes I felt as though I was reading literary criticism with a deaf ear–not really being able to understand the full meaning of Nafisi’s words. The heart of the book was the Islamic Republic and how it shaped the lives of these women, but also how the fiction shaped their lives in different ways. I don’t usually include quotes, but I found this one particularly striking:
“I said to him I wanted to write a book in which I would thank the Islamic Republic for all the things it had taught me–to love Austen and James and ice cream and freedom. I said, Right now it is not enough to appreciate all this; I want to write about it. He said, You will not be able to write about Austen without writing about us, about this place where you rediscovered Austen. You will not be able to put us out of your head. Try, you’ll see. The Austen you know is so irretrievably linked to this place, this land and these trees….” (338).
And I love that quote because literature/fiction/reading is such a personal thing – something that is tied to our experiences, emotions, thoughts. But at the same time, literature/fiction/reading is also a social experience – sharing, collaborating, exploring. And I think that this is what Reading Lolita in Tehran tries to express. I would recommend this book with a little hesitation. I think some of it may be lost one those who don’t have any experience with literary criticism or who haven’t read the texts. Sometimes the reading was tedious, but the overall experience of the book was a good one. OH YA!! This is my final Non-Fiction Five. Whooopppeee!