I've never read Nabokov's Lolita. Frankly, that book has never been on my list. Hence, you can understand how I've not been attracted by the artful title of this novel. What has aroused my curiosity here has been the Islamic Republic of Iran, formerly Persia.
Indeed Iran has always interested me a lot. Amir, my best friend during secondary school had Iranian roots and he is one of the most clever persons I've ever met in my life. I always say that when me and Amir were 12 years old we used to talk about arguments I've never found anyone to speak with since I've turned 20. Modern architecture, classical composers, political stuff, computer science and so on. (but we didn't forget girls, of course!).
What a pity we've lost each other in the last years.
Amir used to talk me about Iran too and the same has done a few years ago Ziba a girl with the same Iranian roots I've met while renting her an apartment when I was a yuppie.
Ziba and Amir had described me life in Tehran many times, with their different views, telling me about their relatives there, the rise of ayatollah Khomeini and the fall of Reza Pahlavi. Sometimes they've been critical toward Iran sometimes not.
Azar Nafisi's book makes an interesting portrait of the most turbulent period for Iran's history, in the 70s and in the 80s albeit probably this work is done by a privileged position. In fact the author comes from a rich Iranian family, she has studied and then taught in the US and sometimes she has been accused to have abandoned her country when situation was getting dangerous.
The book itself has two levels of interpretation.
On one hand it aims to explain to young Iranians western literature, choosing perhaps not its greatest books (e.g. The Great Gatsby, Wuthering Heights, Lolita). Nafisi tells about the private lessons she did at her home talking about these books with her students sipping a cup of tea in the meanwhile like they were chatting in a literature club.
On the other hand, professor Nafisi's lessons show the rising difficulties of having a free life in Teheran during Khomeini's revolution when the girls have to hide their bodies from their head to their toes, but they didn't renounce to make up themselves. Someone might say this behaviour was only vanity, but I think it was a way to declare their independence as women, as well and above all.
In this book there are many key moments about recent Iranian's history like the troubles at Tehran University, the destructions of "dangerous" books, or ayatollah Khomeini mass funerals which Nafisi describes better than a documentary. Sometimes "Reading Lolita in Tehran" looks like a counterposition between a laic view and religion, between a wide culture and a narrow fanaticism.
Although this book is not a masterpiece it has been one of the most interesting and open-mindly reads I've done in the last years.