PETRIe Contributor, Catherine Karellis, curates her top five books to add to your reading list this year, starting with Reading Lolita in Tehran by Professor Azar Nafisi.
Reading Lolita in Tehran (Azar Nafisi)
"There, in that living room, we rediscovered that we were also living, breathing human beings; and no matter how repressive the state became, no matter how intimidated and frightened we were, like Lolita, we tried to escape and to create our own little pockets of freedom."
First published in 2003, Penguin Modern Classics have re-released the New York Times number one bestseller, Reading Lolita in Tehran, this past July. Now is a perfect time to finally pick up Professor Azar Nafisi’s unusual memoir.
Partly an autobiography, partly a vivid portrait of the sociopolitical landscape of 1970’s/1980’s/1990’s Iran and partly literary criticism, Nafisi’s memoir focuses on a group of seven female students who schedule secret weekly meetings in Nafisi’s small apartment to discuss Western novels that have been forbidden by the Islamic State.
Through the lens of these classic novels, Nafisi draws parallels between the lives of her book group and the characters they encounter, from Gatsby’s fervent belief in an impossible dream to Lolita’s yearning for an identity beyond the one imposed upon her.
Regardless of whether or not her politics align with yours, Nafisi’s memoir successfully sheds light on the brutal absurdity of repression, the universality of literature, and finally, how the act of reading can itself be a radical act.
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Words: Catherine Karellis