Nafisi, a professor of Western literature at the University of Tehran, tells the story of the Iranian Revolution through the books she was teaching her classes -- books that became forbidden Western literature under the Ayatollah. While they were reading Nabokov's Lolita, protests flared in the streets as women were forced under chador. As they studied Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, dissidents were publically executed and a blind censor began judging visual art he could not see. War broke out with Iraq during the class' unit on Henry James and Nafisi was expelled from her teaching position for refusing to wear chador and meeting outside class with a man not her husband. Undaunted, Nafisi continued to meet in her living room with a handful of her students to read Austen's Pride and Prejudice. In the safety of her home, they removed their veils and talked about the truths of their lives -- the absurdities of the Revolution, what it meant to be a woman in the Ayatollah's Iran, their grief for a progressive Persia gone mad, and the significance of literature as a catalyst for understanding their country and their lives.
This report prepared by Jennifer Martin-Romme
The author taught English and American literature at several colleges and universities in Iran. The Iranian Revolution led to severe curtailment of women's freedoms and activities. Nafisi was fired from the University of Tehran for refusing to wear the veil, so for two years in 1995-97, she gathered seven of her most highly motivated female students at her home to discuss Jane Austen, Henry James, Fitzgerald, and Nabokov. Meeting in secret this way, they naturally shared their own lives as well -- timid and budding romances, potential arranged marriages, a husband that beats, another that won't support his wife against the unfair and tyrannous regime, young women jailed on a vacation for violating the strict laws against women's freedoms. Their lives and their thoughts, as they discuss some of the most familiar classics of Western literature, make for fascinating reading. (Eventually Nafisi escaped to the West, as did several of her students. She teaches at Johns Hopkins now.)
This report prepared by David Loftus