Azar Nafisi · life · reading

Reading Lolita in Tehran

Oftentimes people’s perception of reading as escapism (although there is nothing wrong with sometimes having a little bit of it) puts me in a state of mild anger – if one’s reading just for fun or, God forbid, to kill time, one’s better not to read at all. Such a blasphemy!

Reading Lolita in Tehran, however, offers some kind of constructive escapism (if it can be called escapism at all): for just a couple of hours a week they wished to leave behind their problems with university and government itself but, “Curiously,” Nafisi says, “the novels we escaped into led us finally to question and prod our own realities, about which we felt so helplessly speechless.”

These memoirs struck me to the core; my stone-hard positive answer to Gaarder’s question¹ was somewhat shaken (but not blown up) after “seeing” how devastating it is to live in a world without basic common sense, with logic built upon all the wrong premises. However, not everything is black. Every cloud has a silver lining, as the saying goes. In this case, it’s their own little book club (how I always wanted to be a part of one!). Why live in a world somebody else created and somehow made it almost obligatory for everybody else around? How did that kind of world gain the exclusivity on the adjective REAL?

Nafisi and her friends chose to fight the world that was imposed on them – by reading about other worlds. She says: “It [a novel] is the sensual experience of another world. [..] This is how you read a novel: you inhale the experience.”

Reading means exploring and learning, it means thinking and making (improving) one’s own self and, also, building one’s own world (and consequently changing a small, or not so small if one’s really into it, part of the “real” world, too). 

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¹“Imagine that you were on the threshold of this fairytale, sometime billions of years ago when everything was created. And you were able to choose whether you wanted to be born to a life on this planet at some point. You wouldn’t know when you were going to be born, nor how long you’d live for, but at any event it wouldn’t be more than a few years. All you’d know was that, if you chose to come into the world at some point, you’d also have to leave it again one day and go away from everything. This might cause you a good deal of grief, as lots of people think that life in the great fairytale is so wonderful that the mere thought of it ending can bring tears to their eyes. Things can be so nice here that it’s terribly painful to think that at some point the days will run out. What would you have chosen, if there had been some higher power that had gave you the choice?” – The Orange Girl