Reading Lolita in Tehran

“‘You don’t read Gatsby’, I said, ‘to learn whether adultery is good or bad but to learn about how complicated issues such as adultery and fidelity and marriage are. A great novel heightens your senses and sensitivity to the complexities of life and of individuals, and prevents you from the self-righteousness that sees morality in fixed formulas about good and evil…'” – Azar Nafisi, Reading Lolita in Tehran

When Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi was first published, Hamid Dabashi, a Columbia professor, criticised Nafisi for subverting Persian culture by focusing on Western classics. An article in Slate talked about how the book was presumptuous, “This self-importance reveals itself in the book’s tone, which is more petulant than outraged.”

Despite all this criticism, the heart of Reading Lolita in Tehran is how literature can teach us about the complexities and nuances of life. In an oppressed society, it provides a form of escapism and often times hope. As Margaret Atwood puts it, “Reading a book creates a memory of itself, and that memory includes the circumstances under which it was read.” ‘Reading Lolita in Tehran’ shows Nafisi’s desire to affect change–however small. It speaks to her boldness and ambition.

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