Reading Lolita in Tehran

July 15, 2014 History, Memoir, non-fiction 16

7603Title: Reading Lolita in Tehran
Author: Azar Nafisi
Source: library
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Review Summary: I found this a bit hard to get into, a little too academic and a little too literary, but once I adjusted to the writing style I was very moved by the author’s and her students’ experiences.

When it became required that female professors in Iran wear the veil, Azar Nafisi resigned and began to teach a small, secret class from her home instead. Every week a group of very different women came together to discuss banned classics. The women also shared in each others struggles to find themselves and express their personalities despite the fear inspired by an oppressive regime.

Initially I wasn’t impressed by the author’s writing style. My biggest pet peeve was that the author often didn’t use quotes. This may be edgy and literary, but it also makes it annoyingly difficult to figure out who is talking or if the author is just thinking. The whole book was more literary and more academic than I anticipated. The author included a lot of literary criticism and I often found myself wishing she would focus more on her life story. Although the writing was beautiful and descriptive, it was also a little too abstract. Especially given my ignorance of the history of the middle east, the lack of hard facts was confusing. This was a book that gave me the feeling of a particular time and place, but little solid description of places and events.

As I adjusted to the author’s writing style, I began to like it more. It truly is beautiful writing which shares emotions clearly. I think a book that can help you understand how people in circumstances very different from your own feel is always a valuable read. The stories of the author and the women in her class were all interesting. I was worried I would have a hard time when she discussed books I hadn’t read, but she shared just enough quotes and plenty of analysis so I never felt lost. I did learn at least a bit about Iran from the book and it encouraged me to look for more books set in the middle east. However, even after getting used to the author’s style, I still learned less about Iran than I would have liked because the book was written in such an academic, abstract way.


16 Responses to “Reading Lolita in Tehran”

  1. Jancee

    I remember really liking this when I read it. I don’t remember the thing about quotes, but then again, my memory is terrible anyway. I think I just like books about books though. So that probably helped.

    • DoingDewey

      I generally like books about books too, so I was surprised this didn’t work for me! I think it was the fact that it included so much analysis of books that I didn’t like. I prefer just having characters who like books or a plot which highlights the value of books to literary criticism, I think.

  2. Andi @ Estella's Revenge

    This is one I’d like to try again just to see if my feelings have changed over the years. I expected more of an emotionally weighty book but it was charged with criticism and academic-mindedness that tamped down the emotional bits for me. Great review!

    • DoingDewey

      Well put! I think the focus on literary criticism diluted the emotional impact for me too. It’s possible I’ll return to it later as well. It was very well written, so I think there’s a possibility I’d like it better going into it with different expectations.

  3. Katie @ Words For Worms

    It’s been quite a while since I read this, but I struggled the whole way through. I found it to be a bit too literary and academic for my taste at the time, although now that I’m older and more patient I might give it another go.

    • DoingDewey

      Yeah, like I said to Andi’s comment, I might consider trying it again later. I think expecting the book to focus so much on literary criticism might help me enjoy it more on a second read.

  4. TracyK

    You actually got me interested in this book, although I am not really into very academic reads either. I may try it someday.

    • DoingDewey

      Oh, I’m glad! I like to think that even negative(ish) reviews can help other readers find books they’d like, perhaps even for the same reasons I disliked them, so that’s nice to hear 🙂

  5. Steph

    Wonderful review of this book. It has been a while since I read it but I too remember it being very academic.

    • DoingDewey

      Thanks, I’m glad you liked it 🙂 I was definitely surprised by how academic it was and I wished the author had shared more information about what was actually happening.

    • DoingDewey

      Although I didn’t love it, it was interesting and well written, so hopefully the style will be more to your liking 🙂

    • DoingDewey

      So true! One of the dangers of reading nonfiction is the possibility of picking up something too academic. This was at least intended for a general audience, but I’ve also accidentally picked up a few books that are clearly intended for people who make a career of studying the topic of the book.

  6. Leah @ Books Speak Volumes

    I really struggled with this book for the same reasons you didn’t enjoy it; I thought the tone was too academic, and I found it hard to follow because I didn’t know much about Iran.

    • DoingDewey

      Exactly! It did make me want to learn more about the Middle East though, in a way current events haven’t for some reason. I’m quite curious now and will definitely be looking for more books about the region!

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