READING LOLITA IN TEHRAN by Azar Nafisi is most famous for the celebrated incident in which F. Scott Fitzgerald’s THE GREAT GATBSY is put on trial for immorality. But that is not all there is to this memoir. Jane Austen’s work is examined for her theme of cruelty, practiced not under the extraordinary circumstances of war or hardship, but under the ordinary circumstances of comfortable middle-class life in England in the eighteenth century. This cruelty is practiced by people like us. Surely that is more frightening, remarks Ms. Nafisi.
And then there is Vladimir Nabokov, the author of LOLITA. While some might think that the title of the book is a bid to get attention, it should be said that Ms. Nafisi is an expert on Nabokov, and is the author of ANTI-TERRA: A CRITICAL STUDY OF VLADIMIR NABOKOV’S NOVELS. Speaking for myself, I found the first part of the novel, when she talks about Nabokov, a gem, because she is so good at unpacking Nabokov’s novels and exploring his themes.
Like another reader, I was puzzled by Ms. Nafisi’s assertion that the tale of how Humbert Humbert seduces and rapes his 12-year-old stepdaughter, confiscating her story as he steals her life, was NOT an allegory of what was (and is) going on in Iran. Because it seems to me that it fits very well with the stories of her female students, who were mistreated in various kinds of ways, forced to adopt a repressive style of dress, and often witness to humiliating and brutal treatment of other women (including the heartbreaking story of a beautiful young girl who was repeatedly raped by her jail guards).
This is a wonderful book for book clubs. But it is also wonderful for mothers to use as a way of starting a conversation about the treatment of women in this world as they try to help their teenaged daughters navigate the pitfalls of life. Five Stars. A bookclub recommendation with reader’s guide provided.