I am just beginning listening to an audio book called, “Reading Lolita in Tehran” by Azar Nafisi. It is the 2nd time I am attempting this book, the first time was when I was corresponding with an Iranian friend who lived in Tehran at the time. She raised objections to the book (I am not sure if she had read it) and I put it away as it caused her some anxiety. Now I feel I can look at it again and listen to it with new ears.
It is not as bad as what my friend was saying; in fact the author says that the book “Lolita” by Vladimir Nabokov, is not a symbol for the Islamic Republic of Iran. Since I have just started this book I am not sure how the book Lolita fits in with her narrative of Iran or her students whom she is teaching, but time will tell. It is her own personal impressions of Iran, her students which have been turned into a novel.
Since my first attempt at “Reading Lolita in Tehran”, I have met other Iranians and have gotten to know life in Iran from several different perspectives, and I find that listening to this book I am finding out that what the book says and what my friends say are not to dissimilar. I mean, there are similarities even though one is a book’s description and another is someone’s memories. Both have a love of “Iran” and a critique of the system, I find nothing distasteful with this. To look at a country through rose-coloured spectacles is not healthy and it can be quite naive to think a country can be idealized to “others” at the same time being distasteful to ones life, this is not an honest representation.
We shall see the book develops…
As I read further, I can begin to see other aspects of the authors writing. She is writing the book in the USA, she is remembering Iran, and she is remembering her life in the USA with occasional references to her life in the USA today. It is all mixed up, it is not a narrative telling a story of events in any order, and it flits from books to life to memories to countries.
The events in Iran during her time there are obviously bad memories: the invasion into her home from the “police” is thought-provoking, but is it so different from the British police breaking down your door in the early morning on a police raid (guilty until proven innocent?), is she saying that these intrusions into ones home only happen in Iran or in any totalitarian state? She is not including USA or the UK or any other “western democratic country”?
She is obviously bitter to what happened to her father as Mayor of Tehran, but does not corruption exist in all politics? These things are not solely in Iran. The incarceration of the group of women in the north of Iran is harrowing reading, and the virginity tests they are subjected too made me feel “sad and angry” but after a while it becomes a catalogue of disturbing events… and I find myself becoming numb to it all.
Where is the alternative side of Iranian life? She must have experienced some happiness there? I know in totalitarian regimes there are still hope and laughter, friends and ways of finding happiness.
Her bags are searched in the airport as she enters Iran from the USA, well has she never been to Manchester airport and the rough way they handle delicate belongings like musical instruments?
She has been subjected to political activism in the 1960s/70s in the USA, she is radicalized and she is transporting that radicalism to Iran… why is she so sure Iran wants that radicalization? So many Ex-pats think they know better than the people who live there!
It is a book of contradictions, and the subject matter of her novels…it is a layered cake of pessimism, I wonder where she is going with it? Her book is like the regime she is condemning (even though she claims not to) negative and dark, perhaps one-sided and it needs a bit of lighter moments to make it believable.