READING LOLITA IN TEHRAN: A Memoir in Books

Azar Nafisi, Author . Random $23.95 (368p) ISBN 978-0-375-50490-7
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This book transcends categorization as memoir, literary criticism or social history, though it is superb as all three. Literature professor Nafisi returned to her native Iran after a long education abroad, remained there for some 18 years, and left in 1997 for the United States, where she now teaches at Johns Hopkins. Woven through her story are the books she has taught along the way, among them works by Nabokov, Fitzgerald, James and Austen. She casts each author in a new light, showing, for instance, how to interpret The Great Gatsby against the turbulence of the Iranian revolution and how her students see Daisy Miller as Iraqi bombs fall on Tehran—"Daisy is evil and deserves to die," one student blurts out. Lolita becomes a brilliant metaphor for life in the Islamic republic. "The desperate truth of Lolita's story is... the confiscation of one individual's life by another," Nafisi writes. The parallel to women's lives is clear: "we had become the figment of someone else's dreams. A stern ayatollah, a self-proclaimed philosopher-king, had come to rule our land.... And he now wanted to re-create us." Nafisi's Iran, with its omnipresent slogans, morality squads and one central character struggling to stay sane, recalls literary totalitarian worlds from George Orwell's 1984 to Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale. Nafisi has produced an original work on the relationship between life and literature. (On sale Apr. 1)

Forecast:Women's book groups will adore Nafisi's imaginative work. Booksellers might suggest they read it along with some of the classics Nafisi examines, including Lolita, The Great Gatsbyand Pride and Prejudice.

Reviewed on: 03/17/2003
Release date: 03/01/2003
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 347 pages - 978-0-00-728953-0
Hardcover - 350 pages - 978-1-86064-981-3
Paperback - 380 pages - 978-0-8129-7930-5
Hardcover - 368 pages - 978-0-375-50490-7
Paperback - 448 pages - 978-84-96333-15-4
Compact Disc - 978-1-4025-9283-6
Hardcover - 613 pages - 978-1-58724-487-2
Paperback - 356 pages
Analog Audio Cassette - 978-1-4025-9281-2
Compact Disc - 16 pages - 978-1-4025-9084-9
Prebound-Sewn - 978-1-4176-2209-2
Paperback - 347 pages - 978-0-00-717848-3
Prebound-Glued - 978-1-61383-848-8
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Audio book sample courtesy of Penguin Random House Audio
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