Ambassador of Books ~ Book Club Madam ~ Blogger Gal

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Reading Lolita in Tehran

Ok, I think this is the last book that I forgot to post about!

My book club did Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi a few months ago. I just loved this book! I posted about it on my book club's blog here and here.

What I loved so much about this book was the way Nafisi wove literature into her life story. She pulled the themes from the classics and applied them to events going on all around her. I especially liked the way she compared Humbert (from Lolita) with Ayatollah Khomeini, showing how they both stole away innocence and attempted to remake others into their own dream ideal.

I won't say too much here since I already posted tons of questions, etc. on my book club's blog. But I will say that this book encouraged me to read more (is that possible?!) and to read more critically. After I finished this book, I immediately went to the library and checked out Washington Square by Henry James. I'd never read any of his works, and he was a big theme in the book. Actually, my review of Washington Square was one of the first ones I posted on this blog.

There is some excellent language in this book. Many passages really made me think. Here are a few of them:
“We were unhappy. We compared our situation to our own potential, to what we could have had, and somehow there was little consolation in the fact that millions of people were unhappier than we were. Why should other people’s misery make us happier or more content?”
“Modern fiction brings out the evil in domestic lives, ordinary relations, people like you and me …. Evil in Austen, as in most great fiction, lies in the inability to ‘see’ others, hence to empathize with them. What is frightening is that this blindness can exist in the best of us (Eliza Bennett) as well as in the worst of us (Humbert). We are all capable of becoming the blind censor, of imposing our visions and desires on others. Once evil is individualized, becoming part of everyday life, the way of resisting it also becomes individual. How does the soul survive? is the essential question. And the response is: through love and imagination.”
According to Nafisi, Jane Austen “ignored politics … because she didn’t allow her work, her imagination, to be swallowed up by the society around her. At the time when the world was engulfed in the Napoleonic Wars, she created her own independent world, a world that [I], two centuries later, in the Islamic Republic of Iran, teach as the fictional ideal of democracy.” When she realizes the truth of this, she “would have to admit that my girls, like millions of other citizens, by refusing to give up their right to pursue happiness, had created a dent in the Islamic Republic’s stern fantasy world.”
The genteel and beautiful heroines of Austen’s novels “are the rebels who say no to the choices made by silly mothers, incompetent fathers … and the rigidly orthodox society. They risk ostracism and poverty to gain love and companionship, and to embrace that elusive goal at the heart of democracy: the right to choose."
“A hero [in the modern novel] becomes one who safeguards his or her individual integrity at almost any cost. I think most of my students would have agreed with this definition of evil, because it was so close to their own experience. Lack of empathy was to my mind the central sin of the regime, from which all others flowed.”
Henry James, writing during WWI, “was aware, as many were not, of the toll such cruelty takes on emotions and of the resistance to compassion that such events engender. In fact, this insensitivity becomes a way of survival. As in his novels, he insisted on the most important of all human attributes – feeling – and railed against ‘the paralysis of my own powers to do anything but increasingly and inordinately feel.’”
“Gatsby wanted to fulfill his dream by repeating the past, and in the end he discovered that the past was dead, the present a sham, and there was no future. Was this not similar to our revolution, which had come in the name of our collective past and had wrecked our lives in the name of a dream?”
Ok, so maybe I went overboard with the quotes (sorry!) but there were just so many passages in this book that really touched me in some way. Have you ever felt that way about a book before? I'd love to hear about it!

If you have reviewed this book, please post a link to your review in the comments and I'll add it here later.

Here are reviews from a few other bloggers:
review from Trish's Reading Nook.
a review from Adventures in Reading
a review from The Armenian Odar Reads

3 comments:

Trish said...

I agree with many of the things you say, especially wanting to read more and also more closely. Some of the connections with literature were a little more effective than others for me, but I loved the first section about Lolita. Glad you liked it (and thanks for coming by to find my review)

Myrthe said...

Heather, I agree very much with you that there were lots of good passages in the book. For some reason I didn't mark them, but they were definitely there!

I am not sure if Reading Lolita will make me read more critically, but it did confirm something I have been thinking about recently. Since I started blogging about books last year and trying to put into words what I like and don't like about the books I read, I realized that I would love to have more tools to my disposal to judge and write about a book. I would love to be able to get more out of a book by having a better understanding of things like plot and character development, stylistics, etc. Maybe I should look into online courses on literature or something like that?

Heather J. said...

myrthe - here's a site you might want to visit: LitLovers

they have some short online courses that look like they are what you're looking for! :)

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