Monday, December 6, 2010

Review: Reading Lolita in Tehran

Reading Lolita in TehranReading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Great read. Nafisi relates her her personal history in Iran through memories associated with great books, including Nabokov's "Lolita," Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby," along with several works from Henry James and Jane Austen. Thus, to read this book is to also gain a literature's scholar insight into these other great works of fiction. The book itself even has a nice discussion about the concept of fiction and its role in society, particularly interesting in light of the transition of Iran during Nafisi's time there and its evolving cultural and religious attitudes towards works of fiction.

Nafisi's memoir takes the reader back to a short time before the Iranian Revolution when she arrived back in Iran to teach at the University of Tehran. From there, we hear her stories about the changing ideology during the revolution, its eventual "success," followed by eight long years of war with Iraq, and the all the resulting subjugation that so many women experienced during this time. While the history she provides relating the Revolution and the war with Iraq are interesting, the book is most fascinating when she shares the stories of the small book class she started teaching in her home with former students, all female. Their discussions and ideas, their sharing of their lives really gives true insight into the total suppression of the Iranian regime, and how that regime permeated everything, taking away even the freedom of thought and love.

I think the book will make one both inspired by the courage these women show, as well as deeply saddened by the tragedy they endure. All the while, we get the sense that in a place where fiction is restricted so much, it becomes even a more important place of escape for one's soul.

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Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Book Thoughts: Housekeeping


My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Enjoyed reading this book. Admittedly, its not the easiest of reads, it took awhile for me to get used to the writing style of the author, but I think that style helps contribute to the book's worth - it is very thought provoking. Through its simple story of two girls growing up in tiny town out west, with a huge lake and a railroad going by, and their tragic and unorthodox raising due to certain deaths in their family. Thus, the book makes one think about one's relationships with family members, and most significantly, what constitutes the idea of "home." I think this fundamental question drives the book, but it is by no means the only question the book brings to the forefront on the reader. As I was reading, I found myself thinking about the struggle that can exist between a society's draw on an individual to conform and a soul's draw on the individual to be authentic - and if and how that could be reconciled; reflecting on how tragedy and despair can have such disparate impacts on individuals who appear so close, so similar; as well as the benefit and harm that can be caused by attachment to not only certain things, but to certain people, and certain ideas.

Its not an overly long book, but it does take a bit to work through and digest everything that is going on with the story, the characters, as well as one's own reflections to its themes. A great book for discussion, and a worthy read.