Amanda Reads: Reading Lolita in Tehran

Hey, bookish internet! It’s been a rough month, so my reading progress has been slow lately. As a result, I feel as if I’ve been reading Reading Lolita in Tehran for about a year now. This book has been shoved into suitcases and duffel bags, traveling with me as I pretend that I will have time to read. Things have begun to settle back into a routine, though, so I finished it!

Lolita

This book wasn’t what you could call a fun read. I’m not even sure it was enjoyable, although at times I really enjoyed seeing Aar Nafisi’s interpretation of the books I studied in school. Someone from another background, a different culture, really casts a new and interesting perspective on American classics like The Great Gatsby and other members of our Western canon. That being said, the main thing I would say about this book is that the reading experience was really eye-opening to me.

Although I have spent my time in AmeriCorps branching out and learning a lot about other cultures, I was still fairly ignorant of what life is like for real women in countries other than my own. My interest in learning about women in the middle east kicked off when we visited the Islamic Center with my AmeriCorps group, lighting a spark that led to me to read I Am Malala and to pick up Reading Lolita in Tehran, a title I’ll admit I previously hadn’t been very interested in.

The book does an interesting thing when it pairs what is familiar to someone like myself, the Western Canon, with something incredibly unfamiliar–daily life for a woman in Tehran in the 80’s and 90’s. Nafisi describes, through the lens of her work as a professor and her interactions with her students, the contrasts, confusions, and fluctuations of life for a woman under ever-changing regimes, some lenient and some stringent, but all of them enforcing Shariah Law and the veil. It made me grateful, again and again, for the freedoms I’ve had as a woman in the United States. While feminism still has a long way to go even in America, and women are still not completely equal, in comparison to women in many other nations, I feel so very lucky to be in the position I am in. It’s important sometimes, I think, to recognize that simply by being born here I have been given a huge privilege.

That being said, I found the book’s organizational structure a bit challenging at times. For certain sections, the connection to the book or author that the section was named for was tenuous or confusing. At times I wasn’t sure why things were being described in the order that they were, and the timeline of events got tricky. This is probably due in part to my distracted state while reading much of the book, but I think it’s also a common problem with memoir–connections that are clear to those who lived events can be difficult for those who are simply reading a report of them.

I can’t say how much sense the book would make to someone who isn’t familiar with the books discussed, either, since there is a lot of literary criticism interspersed. For me, though, this book was an excellent, eye-opening read. And it gave me some new perspectives on some well-known books, too!

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