Reading: Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi

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On page 222.

Alright, I hoped to post when I finished this book, which I planned to have done by now but here we are and I feel the need to write a post anyway.

First of all, this book is amazing. I am not a nonfiction reader; fiction suits me just fine. Yet this book drew me to it probably because of the title and what I assumed the nature and topic of the book. Reading Lolita in Tehran sounds like it should be about the struggles and challenges and opinions of reading Lolita in what seems an ironic place, considering women are required to be veiled and meant to be void in figure and conduct. As an English major, my excitement and desire made me purchase the book once the library copy had to go back while I was still reading it.

However, the subtitle is the real clue about the book itself: a memoir in books. Books are merely the conduit for Nafisi’s experiences and they tie-in to the history and her time in Iran. Which right now is completely fascinating to me, as Iran encompasses more of the global attention each day, it seems. Having not been an adult during the 1970s and 1980s, this book allows me to understand the situations from back then while helping esee the present with more clarity and possibly conceive a future.

If it’s so gripping, then why haven’t I finished it yet?

Because this book is like a glass of water. It’s good for you, it’s a necessity (understanding others and backstory of other cultures and religions), it’s simple yet complex. Sometimes it is like a cold glass of ice water; there are points in which the water is still drinkable, even gulp-able, at just a perfect temperature to consume a lot of it at one time. But the water can get too cold, hard to drink, giving you a headache it’s so cold; these tend to be the war and riot passages, the bombing of Tehran in which Nafisi’s windows rattle as she tries to protect her family and not be scared–times when I am thankful that I am only reading instead of living through it. Which leads me to think, what if a religious zealot faction took over America and forced everyone into submission to their rules and morals? Instead of veils, it would likely be crosses we’d be required to wear in public. Moral offenses would become breaking the law and punishable by jail time or death. What would it be like to told that you cannot and should not socialize with the other gender? What about having moral police constantly patrolling all the streets and sidewalks and buildings? What would that feel like? Nafisi takes us, the reader, along with her and it can be especially hard to read as an American woman with all my rights and freedoms that my fellow Americans, and I’m sure that I can include myself at times, take for granted.

Unlike water, this book is anything but bland and boring. At the water cooler today, two co-workers talked about adding flavor packets to their water so that “it doesn’t taste like water”. Sure, water can be refreshing but it can also be boring to some. The language and descriptions are so beautiful and clear and delightful, that despite the difficult passages and my “what if” wandering personal thoughts that they spur, I return again and again to this book. Not so much to find out how it ends, we already know she leaves Tehran for the United States in the 1990s, but I return to enjoy her writing and storytelling. She not only tells her own story but also those of the women in her reading group as well as others that were a part of her life in Tehran. We get an inside look into a country I don’t know much about as a young American. The struggles and hardships need to be told and should be read and spread by others to create more awareness and understanding, and Nafisi does the story justice in her beautiful telling.

So my bookmark keeps moving, although not as slowly as with Infinite Jest, but slower than I would like. Perhaps this weekend I will make time and finally finish listening to the wonderful story Nafisi tells. Perhaps sipping a cup of tea will encourage the water of the text to warm up to a perfect temperature so I can consume the rest in one sitting.

Infinite update: on page 93.

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