Reading Lolita in Tehran, by Azar Nafisi

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.


In Search of Lost Time, by Marcel Proust.

(Or as I remember it, in Carlisle library when I was a teenager, “Remembrance of Things Past).

“Swan’s Way” the first book…

I have been trying this audio book for 1 week, I am struggling with it. It reminds me of Flaubert “Madame Bovary” with its mundane talk, its stillness, lack of movement, detail to detail. My God, how he goes into detail, flowery, in-depth, precise analytical descriptions. And for all that it is brilliant, if you can bare all that then it takes you into another world, a secure world like he is describing of its time. His childhood, his adulthood, his family and servants, friends and environment is all minutely described and this paints pictures in one’s head, you can enter and live it, if you are also in that frame of mind.

And that’s the problem; in this day and age we are not always in that state of mind; as it paints a picture of a static society not a movable one, as is ours today. It is like a painting hanging in a gallery where we stop and look into it, it is not like a video where we stop and it moves and passes us by. You have to enter into it or it is a nothing. So sometimes I struggle with it as I am not in that static state of mind.

I looked into this book when I was a teenager but when I saw the many volumes on the shelves I did not bother with it, I am pleased I never tackled it then as I certainly would not have continued with it, but now I will keep going, it is not a book where I can linger though, but I do appreciate its prose and descriptions.

The L Shaped Room (film and novel)

Last night I watch the film called “The L Shaped Room”, directed by Bryan Forbes from 1960. I had read the novel a while ago, the same title as the film written by Lynne Reid Banks, and wanted to compare the two. The book I had picked up in a market from Eccles many years ago I had not heard of it before but reading the back of the cover I was intrigued.

The film differed from the book, often the film is poorer than the book but I think the film brought to life certain aspects that the book hinted at, and the film became a separate creation. The leading heroine is French in the film and English in the novel, why? Well, I guess it brought up certain aspects of “foreign-ness” the war was mentioned, adding something to past and the now (1960). The negro character had a strange role in the film he is hinted as being gay, but I would say he is more A-sexual, as though a negro cannot be allowed to feel any sex or to listen to it, or have a relationship except for his gift with music.

The men in the film are either drunks, sexual predators, or in the main characters weak and unsuccessful. The writer cannot sell his novels, he backs away from responsibilities, he wants sex but not commitment, although he tries he cannot accept the baby, which is not his… at least this is honesty. In the book the heroine is English, pregnant, does not enjoy sex, independent minded… all complex characters. All living in a house which is odd… the L shaped room indicates all is not “straight” sexuality, jobs, relationships, etc.

There are 2 other books from this novel: “The Backward Shadow”, and “Two is Lonely” I must track them down.



"The Beautiful and the Damned", by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1)

I started this book by F. Scot Fitzgerald after reading “Tender is the Night” partly as I did not want to lose the author’s style once I had tapped into it. But I am struggling with it (but I was saying this also over “Tender is the Night” in the beginning).

The main character “Anthony” is the bored intellectual of his day. Nothing happens in his life, he moves along it without touching the sides. The little I have read about the “flapper” period shows such a character, the superficiality, the benign empty chatter, the need to not be serious (except for a serious light heartedness).

But since the suggested introduction of the heroine (or should I say anti-heroine) the story suddenly has a life, a purpose… it becomes interesting. Why? Her (Gloria’s) character is just as superficial as Anthony’s. Her talk of her legs, the light-hearted chatter, the superficiality, is suggested. There is a similarity between the modernist man and modernist woman. There is no romance indicated, no sex, no love, a few kisses in the back of a car, the relationship between the sexes is empty-headed, occasionally fueled with helium.

Whatever the reason the book suddenly becomes readable. The woman gives it a new life, which is strange as she has not even enter the dialogue yet, except in the 3rd person narrative. Perhaps the dullness of the book was the boredom (and boring) life style of the man, yet the suggested happy-go-lucky life style of the woman creates a picture of fun (to the reader – a man) and a novelty.

Let’s see how the book (and my interest) develops.

"Tender is the Night" by F. Scott Fitzgerald

I have been reading the book for a couple of weeks, not going at it diligently but when the mood took me. I found it hard going at first, I could not see where it was going, the main story line, like with so many modernist writers it touches upon subjects in a realistic way while the brain still expects a Victorian plot.

But it grew on me, more his style of writing, his use of a sentence, detached from the plot yet a part of it, a double meaning speaking to a past time of the 20s, between the wars. The character Dick, grew into an anti-hero character. His decline from popularity, good job, prospects, money, career, charisma… into a vulgar, argumentative, drunk, abusive, violent, adulterer. He controlled his wife, yet saved her from mental illness….

If we are to believe the end where he says something like “the doctor has cured the patient”. Was he married to her to save her? Was it a plot of his to cure her of herself? He went from mental illness into an independent woman…free to have an affair of her own… so just as morally corrupt as him.

I found the end sad, really sad. He became liberated yet his existence was one of obscurity, failed jobs, failed relationships living in a small town in the US, money troubles, where as Nicole married the lover (who seemed to me also controlling.. “Out of the drying pan into the fire!”). if it was true that he did all this to save her, not love her, but to use her as a patient, maybe an easy option, maybe to hide behind her money… money which paralyzed him, stopped him from striving, creating… and left him impotent; and what eventually led to their marriage failure, breakdown and separation.

Did she love him? Can a mentally ill person really love another as a wife could? Was not her love an illness, an infatuation? She latched on to him and took over the money side of things in a monologue. It was done and dusted in a paragraph. Money took away the strife which created happiness.