In Tehran, Iran, for two years during the late 1990s, literature professor Azar Nafisi conducted a secret class in her home for 7 women students. The class was about literature and read from works of Nabokov, Henry James, Fitzgerald, Jane Austin, and others. Reading Lolita in Tehran is professor Nafisi’s memoir of those years and those that came before, as Nafisi struggled to teach literature whose very characters and stories more often than not offended the Islamic authorities. Reading Lolita alternates between being a social history of modern Iran and the challenges for women to retain their dignity in a repressive Islamic state, and an inquiry into the power of fiction to open our eyes and give our lives meaning. Nafisi follows the lives of her students – their stories, fears, struggles, and triumphs – as each comes to terms with their lives and roles in the world. Ultimately many, like Nafisi, will choose to leave Iran, rather to continue to live in a culture where so much of their lives are proscribed.
Reading Lolita in Tehran is beautifully written. Anyone who cherishes literature will not only appreciate the subject matter, but the lyrical manner in which it is written. Highly recommended.