Reading Lolita in Tehran

Reading Lolita in TehranReading Lolita in Tehran

A Memoir in Books

Azar Nafisi

It is Banned Books Week, a celebration of censored books that call out to us to read them in spite of  rigid censorship from our societies, our teachers, our leaders, our mentors.

I was asked to post on such a book and, in a billionth of a second, I knew it had to be Reading Lolita in Tehran.

Reading Lolita in Tehran was published at a time I was working with a foundation here in the States that built and ran a school in the worst of war-torn Afghanistan. Against Afghanistan’s centuries-old customs of depriving education to women and girls, this school included girls as well as boys.

The first year, the school had twelve students who met in a courageous family’s home. Then word spread and sixty came. More homes opened up to educate two hundred while a school was constructed. That school building was added onto again and again as the student population swelled to twelve hundred, nearly half of them girls.

After seven years, the success of the school posed such a threat to fundamentalists that they brought in bulldozers. Within three days all that was left of the school was a heap of dust and brick and children once again went without education.

Needless to say, the destruction nearly devastated our group here in the States. I think Reading Lolita in Tehran helped solidify and strengthen our resolve to rebuild.

Reading Lolita in Tehran highlights one brave teacher’s effort to educate a handful of girls in a deadly environment. Here is a quote I took directly from Azar Nafisi‘s website:

“Every Thursday morning for two years in the Islamic Republic of Iran, a bold and inspired teacher named Azar Nafisi secretly gathered seven of her most committed female students to read forbidden Western classics. As Islamic morality squads staged arbitrary raids in Tehran, fundamentalists seized hold of the universities, and a blind censor stifled artistic expression, the girls in Azar Nafisi’s living room risked removing their veils and immersed themselves in the worlds of Jane Austen, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Henry James, and Vladimir Nabokov. In this extraordinary memoir, their stories become intertwined with the ones they are reading. Reading Lolita in Tehran is a remarkable exploration of resilience in the face of tyranny and a celebration of the liberating power of literature.”

Nafisi’s outright bravery proves that with courage and dedication nothing can kill education and learning. Reading Lolita in Tehran might unsettle us in our cozy part of the world where we are provided the freedom and the environment for an education. But it might make us cherish what we have, even for just a moment. It is a book that should be read.


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