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A Reading Vocation

"I Must Read, Read, and Read. It is my Vocation." - Thomas Merton

This is where I chronicle my reading life.  I also blog about writing at Lacey's Late-night Editing.


Book 54/100: Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi

Reading Lolita in Tehran - Azar Nafisi

Around the Year Reading Challenge Item #11: A Book from the Rory Gilmore Reading Challenge

Gosh, I wish I hadn't waited so long to write this review.

This book was different than I expected it to be. Based on its descriptions, I thought it would be focused on the lives of the girls in the authors book group, and how their dreams and their realities intersected via the focal point of the book club. Although the book begins and ends with these girls, the long middle section details the slow creep of the Islamic Revolution into ordinary citizens' lives, until it had all but blotted out individuality.

Even though I've read a handful of books on Iran's Islamic Revolution, I still had to work hard to stay focused and keep the various factions and political figures straight. When the author detailed the way people she knew would show up dead with little provocation, I read with the sort of engrossed horror of someone who has just discovered the genre of the dystopia. I wanted to thrust this book (or others that went into similar detail about the day-to-day horrors of a dictatorial regime) into the hands of all teens obsessed with the genre and say, "LOOK, we don't NEED to make these terrifying societies up; they actually exist, and the more we learn about them, hopefully the better prepared we will be to fight them."

This memoir is organized by books, with the author using each book to encompass a different era of her life and the politics surrounding it. I was glad that I had read most of the books referenced, since the author's academic writing background spills into this memoir in the form of long digressions analyzing the texts she and her students studied and how they related to the current political climate. Between the book analyses and the political details, the book did come to feel a little dense in the middle; still, a subject as complex and nuanced as the Islamic Revolution cannot be quickly explained or summarized, nor does it lend itself to a "breezy" read. Considering the subject matter, this is a fairly accessible book, especially to those familiar with Western literature.

I couldn't help but contemplate the fact that nearly all the voices we get out of Iran come from writers who have either spent significant amounts of time outside the country or who left the country eventually. This makes me wonder if Westerners can ever truly understand Iran's history or its bearing on Iranians' contemporary realities, when our instructors have a decidedly Westernized mentality even from within their Middle Eastern culture. This is one of the many costs of censorship, I guess, that the only voices that will ever reach us are those that have, in one way or another, already made it to the outside.