When women couldn’t wear pink socks: an informal review of Reading Lolita in Tehran

Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi
Fourth Estate; London and New York, 2003
(Non-fiction; Memoir)

Literature from West Asia is usually not my type of reading. But this one is an exception. I picked it up because the incidents looked like it happened straight out of a novel! (So much for non-fiction, did u say?) It offers a fascinating portrait of Iran during the 70s and 80s when the Islamic fundamentalists came into power. Nafisi portrays the political confusion that ensures when anybody who does not align themselves with any particular school of thought other than freedom of expression makes her own decisions.

Azar Nafisi was a literature professor at the University of Tehran and one of the people who supported the new revolutionaries hoping that a better regime would come to power. Unfortunately, the revolutionaries turned out to be worse than the Shah. They imposed various restrictions in the name of of the Holy Koran. The rules became sillier and sillier by the day till women were left with no choice but to wear the burkha (parda), wear no makeup, never walk alone, stop working and amongst other strange rules give up wearing pink socks. In this reapidly shrinking outside world, Nafisi invites seven of her most promising students to Thursday morning at her house to discuss works of literature. So, they read Nabokov’s Lolita, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Henry James’s Washington Square and Diasy Miller in the light of their own personal lives.

While everyday classes at the University get interrupted with alarming regularity, the Thursday discussion group goes on for many years till Nafisi decides to migrate to thew U.S because the conditions were becoming more and more unfriendly for intellectuals and teachers. Currently, Dr. Nafisi is a professor at The School for Advanced International Studies at John Hopkins University.

Along with the Thursday morning literary group Nafisi gives a very beautiful picture of Iran pre and post revolution. One character that stands out in my hand is “the magician,” that nebullious, chocolate-lover of a man who always made sense. His name is never revealed; he is known only as “the magician.” We could all do with a friend like “the magician” in our lives; someone we can turn to when we can turn to when we have to make tough decision.

This is really a hard-hitting read. It is part literary criticism, part memoir, part history book, part biography and completely worth reading it. A psychological, political, professional de-masking of the minds, bodies, and spirits of women in Iran at that time and how they deal with the ever-changing reality outside their home.

Rating: :* * * * * = Khallas (Deadly)

My Rating System:
* * * * * = Khallas (Deadly)
* * * * = Bindaas (Great)
* * * = Jhakaas (Good)
* * = Timepass(Okay)
* = Bakwaas (Avoid it)

PS: I wrote this review piece on 29th May but I completely forgot about it!

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