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Reading Lolita in Teheran

On the cover of this book, Margaret Atwood is quoted as saying “all readers should read it,” and she is absolutely right. Dr Nafisi weaves together her own memories and her literary criticism because, as her ‘magician’ says in the last few pages, it would be impossible for her to separate these into two different strands. The result of this is that the works she discusses, Nabokov, James, Austen, and Fitzgerald, all take on a new importance in the reader’s mind too. Before reading this book, I had had little knowledge of what Teheran had been like, so not only was it fascinating in a literary conext but also in a global and political way.

What is said on Lolita is very interesting, perhaps because I have such love for this novel. Parallels are constantly drawn between Dr Nafisi’s and her student’s situation and that of Lolita. Humbert’s ‘solipisation’ of Lolita, the way he attempts to possess her completely, is similar to the effects of the regime. People were not allowed individuality as this threatened their power.  These comparisons that are constantly made, such as Ayatollah Khomeini’s dream and that of Gatsby’s, show how literature embody human nature. This is not to say that literature is reality, but that it is culturally important to recognise our own failings and attributes.

Many people disregard books as being a waste of time, being too far from reality, but Reading Lolita in Teheran highlights how indispensable literature actually are. It is a fundamental need of people to let their mind wander, to break down the barriers. This takes on a greater strength in this novel as discussing western books such as The Great Gatsby was a considerable offence. In a world where every action is controlled, each act of defiance, be it letting a strand of hair fall out from beneath a veil (an image repeated throughout) or just letting your imagination run wild, is important in it’s own right. Dr Nafisi says aboutLolita “Yet the novel, the finished work, is hopeful, beautiful even, a defence not just of beauty but of life, ordinary everyday life, all the normal pleasures that Lolita, like Yassi, was deprived of,” which emobodies the nature of what Dr Nafisi is trying to tell her readers.

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