Adonis Diaries

“Reading Lolita in Tehran” by Azar Nafisi. Part 1

Posted on: October 17, 2012

“Reading Lolita in Tehran” by Azar Nafisi

Azar Nafisi resigned from her last academic post at the Tabatabai University in Tehran.  The administration refused for two years to accept the resignation. It is not polite to resign: It is the system that takes the initiative to fire people…

It is the fall of 1995. Azar decided to invite 8 of her best female students to visit her at her home every Thursday morning to discuss literature.  (Thursday and Friday are week-end in Moslem countries).

The theme of the meetings is “Relation between fiction and reality“. Nafisi repeated her warning:

“Do not, at any circumstances, belittle a work of fiction. Refrain from trying to turn a fiction story into a carbon copy of real life….We search in fiction the epiphany of truth…”

One male student insisted on his rights to be included, and he was allowed to read the assigned books and talk on special days.

The girls would shed their veils, scarves, loose black robes…as they entered this sanctuary of mind “open space”: Splashes of color separated the girls, their styles, clothes, length of hair, smiles, laughters…Even the two girls who insisted on keeping their head scarves didn’t look the same.

The girls gained individual outline, shape, inimitable self.

The window faced the Elburz Mountain Chains, covered with snow even in summer.

This reading sanctuary mocked the reality of the black scarves, timid faces in this sprawled city, confiscated and driven underground…

To Azar, the work of fiction that would most resonate with lives in this Islamic Republic of Iran are:

1. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark

2. 1984 (George orwell)

3. Invitation to a beheading (Vladimir Nabokov)

4. Lolita (Vladimir Nabokov)…

For two years, rain or shine, the students arrived to discuss their reading assignments. Only one student defaulted early on.

This circle of girls read Persian classical literature, A thousand and One Night, Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austin), Madam Bovary (Flaubert), Daisy Miller, The Dean’s December, and Lolita

You have got to use your imagination, picturing girls defying the tyranny of time, politics, ideologies, constraints, the absurd and arbitrary decisions…Girls who didn’t dare imagine themselves other than how they were defined in the family and community…

Girls who transcended to other “open spaces“, of most private and secret moments, most extraordinary instances of life, listening to music, falling in love, walking down shady streets, reading Lolita in Tehran…

Girls giving a different color to Tehran, redefining Nabokov’s novel, and extending variations on Lolita…

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