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  Library Journal Review

Nafisi taught English literature at the University of Tehran from 1979 to 1981, when she was expelled for refusing to wear the veil, and later at the Free Islamic University and Allameh Tabatabai in Tehran. In 1997, she and her family left Iran for the United States. This riveting memoir details Nafisi's clandestine meetings with seven hand-picked young women, who met in her home during the two-year period before she left Iran to read and discuss classic Western novels like Lolita, The Great Gatsby, and Pride and Prejudice. The women, who at first were suspicious of one another and afraid to speak their minds, soon opened up and began to express their dreams and disappointments as they responded to the books they were reading. Their stories reflect the oppression of the Iranian regime but also the determination not to be crushed by it. Nafisi's lucid style keeps the reader glued to the page from start to finish and serves both as a testament to the human spirit that refuses to be imprisoned and to the liberating power of literature. Highly recommended for all libraries. [For an interview with Nafisi, see p. 100.]-Ron Ratliff, Kansas State Univ., Manhattan (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

  Booklist Review

Nafisi, a former English professor at the University of Tehran, decided to hold secret, private classes at her home after the rules at the university became too restrictive. She invited seven insightful, talented women to participate in the class. At first they were tentative and reserved, but gradually they bonded over discussions of Lolita, Pride and Prejudice, and A Thousand and One Nights. They neither draw exact parallels between the texts and their lives nor find them completely foreign. Nafisi observes: "Lolita was not a critique of the Islamic Republic, but it went against the grain of all totalitarian perspectives." Nafisi mixes literary analyses in with her observations of the growing oppressive environment of the Islamic Republic of Iran: women are forced to wear the veil at university and eventually separated in class from men. Bombs fall outside while Nafisi tries to conduct class. Nafisi's determination and devotion to literature shine through, and her book is an absorbing look at primarily Western classics through the eyes of women and men living in a very different culture. --Kristine Huntley

  Kirkus Review

So you want a revolution? If your foe is an ayatollah, try reading Jane Austen. So exiled writer and scholar Nafisi (English/Johns Hopkins Univ.) instructs in this sparkling memoir of life in post-revolutionary Iran. A modest dissident during the shah's regime, a member of a Marxist study group like so many other Iranian students abroad ("I never fully integrated into the movement. . . . I never gave up the habit of reading and loving 'counterrevolutionary' writers"), Nafisi taught literature at the University of Tehran after the revolution. After running afoul of the mullahs for having dared teach such "immoral" novels as The Great Gatsby and such "anti-Islamic" writers as Austen, she organized a literary study group that met in her home. Fittingly, the first work her group, made up of seven young women, turned to was The Thousand and One Nights, narrated by that great revolutionary Scheherazade. "When my students came into that room," Nafisi writes, "they took off more than their scarves and robes. . . . Our world in that living room became our sanctuary, our self-contained universe, mocking the reality of the black-scarved, timid faces in the city that sprawled below." Tracing her students' discussions and journeys of self-discovery while revisiting scenes from her "decadent" youth, Nafisi puts a fine spin on works that Western students so often complain about having to read--The Golden Bowl, Mansfield Park, Ulysses, Mrs. Dalloway. And, without once sinking into sentimentality or making overly large claims for the relative might of the pen over the sword, Nafisi celebrates the power of literature to nourish free thought in climes inhospitable to it; as she remarks, Vladimir Nabokov's novel Lolita may not have been a direct "critique of the Islamic Republic, but it went against the grain of all totalitarian perspectives," while enjoying the pages of Pride and Prejudice with friends served as a powerful reminder that "our society was far more advanced than its new rulers." A spirited tribute both to the classics of world literature and to resistance against oppression. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
Summary
Every Thursday morning for two years in the Islamic Republic of Iran, a bold and inspired teacher named Azar Nafisi secretly gathered seven of her most committed female students to read forbidden Western classics. As Islamic morality squads staged arbitrary raids in Tehran, fundamentalists seized hold of the universities, and a blind censor stifled artistic expression, the girls in Azar Nafisi's living room risked removing their veils and immersed themselves in the worlds of Jane Austen, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Henry James, and Vladimir Nabokov. In this extraordinary memoir, their stories become intertwined with the ones they are reading. Reading Lolita in Tehran is a remarkable exploration of resilience in the face of tyranny and a celebration of the liberating power of literature.
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