Reading Lolita In Tehran is a towering achievement. There is absolutely no doubt about that, nor about the brilliance of the amazingly gifted woman who wrote it. It tells the story of Dr. Nafisi — an educator in Iran — who has an unmatched passion for literature and reading and who chooses to teach a select group of her female students a sampling of world’s greatest literature; ones that are currently banned in Iran (like works of Nabokov, James, Austen, etc.) If you read the books discussed, you are sure to appreciate the discussions and analyses that much more. But even if you haven’t, it will make you want to. I haven’t read most of the ones mentioned and discussed in the book, but I think I might give one a try. Through the sessions that are held in her home,you get to know Dr.Nafisi and her students and about life in Iran, and what folks-especially women-have to live and put up with on a daily basis. I left this book in the middle of it, because I was so frustrated and mad that I couldn’t find a certain passage I so loved to include in an earlier newsletter. And I still can’t, however, I found other passages instead that I will include here. The book paints such an unsavory picture of Iran that I almost don’t want to go visit. But it is much more than just introducing great literature and analyzing and discussing them with her students. The books create a world where the female students can roam and be free and exist as they wish to be a far cry from the real world they live in. While the world their country presents to them is of an oppressive one, the world the books provide is a welcoming and open one. They can in essence be and do what they want in the books’s world. They are denied this in their real life existence. Most hope to leave Iran, although some wished to stay behind and hope to make a difference and make things better; after all, as one husband mentions, it is their country. Here is a sampling from the book:
"These Girls, my girls had both a real history and a fabricated one. Although they come from very different backgrounds, the regime that ruled them had tried to make ther personal identities and histories irrelevant. They were never free of the regime’s definition of them as Muslim women… These students, like the rest of their generation, were different from mine in one fundamental aspect. My generation complained of a loss, the void in our lives that was created when our past was stolen from us,making us exiles in our own country. Yet, we had a past to compare with the present, we had memories and images of what had been taken away. But my girls spoke constantly of stolen kisses, films they had never seen, and the wind they had never felt on their skin. This generation has no past. Their memory was of a half-articulated desire,something they had never had. It was this lack, their sense of longing for the ordinary, taken-for-granted aspects of life, that gave their words a certain luminous quality akin to poetry."
The words of one of the female students will be with me for a long time. When Iran was about to have a "kinder,gentler" new president, she said, "I don’t want a nicer jail warden, I rather be out of jail. " In between my readings, I continued to attend movies. And the movies — write in the heart of the year end awards and the Oscar season — continue to thrill. Memoirs of a Geisha is probably one of the prettiest movies you will ever see. It is based on the blockbuster book, and is getting, if not ringing endorsements, but good reviews. A criticism has been levied against it by some folks — not necessarily the critics — that the lead actresses should have been Japanese and not the Chinese/Hongkong superstars. But my problem with that criticism is an obvious one. Why don’t the same folks complain that the book was written by an American and not by a Japanese?!! The movie tells the story of how a very young girl is sold to a geisha house for a better life. As she becomes an adult, she herself becomes a geisha and experiences life among the priviledged — a far cry from her poor beginnings in a fishing village. Then World War 2 changes everything for Japan and the Geisha World.