Our new Read of the Week celebrates Banned Book Week, focusing on a group of Iranian women who read banned Western literature. Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi is recommended by Reader Leader Cat.
"Life in the Islamic Republic [of Iran] was as capricious as the month of April, when short periods of sunshine would suddenly give way to showers and storms. It was unpredictable: the regime would go through cycles of some tolerance, followed by a crackdown. Now we had again entered a time of hardships. Universities had once more become the targets of attack." - Azar Nafisi, Reading Lolita in Tehran
When strict government regulations make Azar Nafisi feel she must give up her post as a lecturer at the University of Tehran, she selects seven of her female students to form a secret book group.
Once a week, the group meet in her home to read and discuss banned works of Western literature. In the oppressive climate of the Islamic Republic, the group becomes a haven for the women to express themselves freely and explore their identities away from the social and cultural values that otherwise constrict them.
I love this book because it is a window into a completely different culture, and because it gives an authoritative and articulate voice to women who are often denied one. It’s also a really thought-provoking read that asks many interesting questions, some relatable (what’s more important, sticking to your principles or compromising them to achieve a greater good? How and why is great literature so important to life?) and some not quite so relatable (How do you deal with an armed guard interrupting your picnic to reprimand you for eating an apple too ‘seductively’?!)
Inside every culture that we can only experience from a distance are the humans living it, defining/being defined by it, and (often unwittingly) creating it.
In allowing me a direct insight into human life in Tehran during the years of the Islamic Republic I felt like this book taught me more about this part of Iran’s history than any source of non-fiction ever could, all the while telling me a great story packed with charming and relatable characters - characters who become even more interesting when they discuss famous works of Western Literature from their vastly different perspective.
If you’ve ever wondered how different life might be if you’d been born into another time or place I couldn’t recommend this book enough!