Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Reading Lolita in Tehran: I must be missing something...

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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