Azar Nafisi captured worldwide attention with Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books (2003), a publishing sensation that spent seventy weeks on the New York Times bestseller list and is translated in over thirty languages. Such fame could hardly be anticipated for a modest professor of English literature, but Nafisi’s inspired teaching, intellectual integrity, and personal courage melded in an exceptional memoir of global appeal.
Nafisi taught at the University of Tehran as the Islamic revolution raged around her. She was fired in 1981 for refusing to wear the veil. For two years before leaving Iran in 1995, Nafisi held secret classes on forbidden Western literature in her home. Seven young women passionately related Lolita, Madame Bovary, and Pride and Prejudice to their lives. Oppressed in their daily lives, they claimed intellectual freedom by studying great literature.
Nafisi lives in Washington, D.C. She teaches at the Johns Hopkins School for Advanced International Studies and directs the Dialogue Project, promoting democracy and human rights. She writes for the New York Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal. Her two forthcoming books investigate culture, loss, and the power of literature to liberate minds and people.
Excerpt from Reading Lolita in TehranThese 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 had 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.
Selected WorkReading Lolita in Tehran (2003)