Thursday, April 29, 2010

Book Review: Reading Lolita in Tehran

Reading Lolita in Tehran Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I initially planned to give this book three stars, but then I realized that I was relieved to be done with it, so I decided to downgrade it to two stars.

I found Reading Lolita in Tehran to be lacking. It had been on my shelves for years, and I finally dove into it, almost to nearly give up on it at my 50-page rule (i.e., if I'm not enjoying a book at 50 pages in, give serious thought about whether I want to continue). However, friends urged me to continue and said it gets better. True--it did improve for awhile.

Given my typical reading preferences (particularly the fact I was an English major and love Jane Austen, and I enjoy reading about women in different countries, especially Asia), this seems like the kind of book I would thoroughly enjoy.

I found the writing to be stand-offish and pompous at times, and pet peeves alert, I didn't like her condescending use of "my girls" to refer to her students. Also, what's with "my magician"? Did I miss an explanation of that term?

I had a hard time keeping all of the students straight, because we really do not get a very vivid picture of any one of them. Nafisi, her husband, and her children also do not get a lot of details...same with her "magician." She used a very broad brush for her characters, both in real life and in the novels she was using to teach.

I found her descriptions of life in Iran to be interesting, although I was curious about the fact that she seemed to want the revolution herself before it happened. I found it hard to understand why her husband didn't seem to get the fact that she was being stifled in Iran, but I think back to living in Japan (which is nowhere near the same situation), and how much more my husband enjoyed our life there than I did. In a society where the status of women and men are so unequal, life is infinitely easier for a man. As much as I look back fondly to my time in Japan, I was ready to leave after 3 years...while Mike was much more regretful to depart.

Some have criticized her book for being anti-Iran, and I wouldn't agree with that. It's definitely anti-totalitarian. I will never forget attending my sister's medical school graduation and meeting her close friend's Iranian parents (who had just flown in from Iran). I was struck by her mother's colorful clothing, vivid makeup, and most of all, vivacious personality. It was nearly impossible for me to imagine her in a chador! Nafisi describes living life in a totalitarian regime as sleeping with a man you abhor. To me, I imagine it as a canary in a coal mine.

I am disappointed that I didn't get more out of this book, and I wonder why so many people I respect really enjoyed it. I must be missing something.

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  1. I have tried to start this book two or three times. Now I don't know what to think! But can I just say, how do you find the time to be so prolific with your blog posts? Your dedication and range of subjects amazes me!

  2. I'm so glad I'm not the only one who couldn't get into it...