Just finished Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi. Picked it up because I liked the description on the cover of the book. A friend just informed me it is an Amazon bestseller and, well, I am not surprised. It is a well-articulated book. The author has not groped for words and settled on lesser ones for that context. But this alone is not what makes it such a brilliant book. What does is the subject, or rather subjects, the book deals with, and the way it accomplishes them in weaving together all these different concepts into one narrative, in a most effortless and natural manner.
Nafisi read literature at Oxford, won her fellowship there, and then for many years taught English literature in various universities in Tehran. She left her beloved country and now lives in Washington D.C. where she teaches at John Hopkins.
Reading Lolita in Tehran is a "Memoir in books" as the cover page informs me. It is, yes, a memoir put across to the reader using Nabokov, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Henry James and Jane Austen. And its greatness lies in the stark and often harrowing realities it deals with, and its success in equating these realities with fiction in literature—and that too, fiction like Lolita, Pride and Prejudice, The Great Gatsby and Daisy Miller! But then, according to the author, their lives during the days of the Iranian Revolution "were more fictional than fiction itself."
In her book, Nafisi has beautifully and astonishingly used these authors, their various writings, and the characters in their books to give the reader a deeper understanding into the lives of people in Iran, the plight of its intellectuals and scholars in a world where they were becoming increasingly "irrelevant," the struggle of its women to maintain the semblance of freedom and dignity in times when they were being vigorously suppressed, the turbulence in the country, and the breakdown of its vibrant social fabric which was then rebuilt to suit the dreams of its fundamentalist rulers.