[lit-ideas] Re: Reading Lolita in Tehran

  • From: "Veronica Caley" <vcaley@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Thu, 1 Apr 2004 11:21:19 -0500

John, I am so glad you found this book.  I read it several months ago.  I
heard Ms. Nafisi on public radio here and was immediately taken with her
and the book.  I borrowed the book from an Iranian friend who was equally
taken with her.  When he read the book, however, he told me he thinks the
CIA put her up to it.  Needless to say, this left me speechless.  My friend
is in total denial re Iran, which he visits often, but has lived here for
many decades.  I will contribute as I can, but I travel a lot and don't
have time to read it again.


> [Original Message]
> From: John McCreery <mccreery@xxxxxxx>
> To: <lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
> Date: 4/1/2004 8:32:31 PM
> Subject: [lit-ideas] Reading Lolita in Tehran
> The title of this message is the title of a book, Azar Nafisi (2004) 
> Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books, London and New York: 
> Fourth Estate, an imprint of Harper Collins Publishers.
> Attracted by the title, I picked it up while browsing for plane reading 
> in a bookstore in Yokohama the day before Ruth and I took off for our 
> trip to Scotland. A first, too hurried, reading in the air between 
> Tokyo and Copenhagen, where we switched from SAS to British Midland to 
> continue our trip to Edinburgh, revealed that this is a book that 
> touches perennial issues--literary, philosophical, and 
> political--frequently discussed on this list. The perspective is that 
> of the author, an Iranian woman and U.S.-trained professor of English 
> literature, who returned to Iran to take up a teaching position at the 
> University of Tehran shortly after the overthrow of the Shah at the 
> beginning of the Islamic Revolution. Expelled from that position, she 
> found another, found another, and then left it as well. She describes 
> what happened next as follows,
> "In the fall of 1995, after resigning from my last academic post, I 
> decided to indulge myself and fulfill a dream. I chose seven of my best 
> and most committed students and invited them to come to my home every 
> Thursday morning to discuss literature. they were all women---to teach 
> a mixed class in the privacy of my home was too risky, even if we were 
> discussing harmless works of fiction....
> "For nearly two years, almost every Thursday morning, rain or shine, 
> they came to my house, and almost every time, I could not get over the 
> shock of seeing them shed their mandatory veils and robes and burst 
> into color. When my students came into that room, they took off more 
> than their scarves and robes. Gradually, each one gained an outline and 
> a shape, becoming her own inimitable self. Our world in that living 
> room with its window framing my beloved Elburz Moutains became our 
> sanctuary, our self-contained universe, mocking the reality of 
> black-scarved, timid faces in the city that sprawled below.
> "The theme of the class was the relation between fiction and reality. 
> We read Persian classical literature, such as the tales of our own lady 
> of fiction, Scheherazade, from _A Thousand and One Nights_, along with 
> Western classics--_Pride and Prejudice_, _Madame Bovary_, _The Dean's 
> December_, and, yes, _Lolita_. As I write the title of each book, 
> memories whirl in with the wind to disturb the quiet of this fall day 
> in another room in another country.
> "Here and now in that other world that cropped up so many times in our 
> discussions, I sit and reimagine myself and my students, my girls as I 
> came to call them, reading _Lolita_ in a deceptively sunny room in 
> Tehran. But to steal the words from Humbert, the poet/criminal of 
> _Lolita_, I need you, the reader, to imagine us, for we won't really 
> exist if you don't. Against the tyranny of time and politics, imagine 
> us the way we sometimes didn't dare to imagine ourselves: in our most 
> private and secret moments, in the most extraordinarily ordinary 
> instances of life, listening to music, falling in love, walking down 
> shady streets or reading _Lolita_ in Tehran. And then imagine us again 
> with all this confiscated, driven underground, taken away from us.
> "If I write about Nabokov today, it is to celebrate our reading of 
> Nabokov in Tehran, against all odds. Of all his novels I choose the one 
> I taught last, and the one that is connected to so many memories. It is 
> of _Lolita_ that I want to write, but right now there is no way I can 
> write about that novel without also writing about Tehran. This, then, 
> is the story of _Lolita_ in Tehran, how _Lolita_ gave a different color 
> to Tehran and how Tehran helped redefine Nabokov's novel, turning it 
> into this _Lolita_, our _Lolita_."
> I would be delighted to participate in a virtual reading group 
> dedicated to reading (in my case re-reading) this book.
> Any takers out there?
> John L. McCreery
> The Word Works, Ltd.
> 55-13-202 Miyagaya, Nishi-ku
> Yokohama, Japan 220-0006
> Tel 81-45-314-9324
> Email mccreery@xxxxxxx
> "Making Symbols is Our Business"
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