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Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books | [Azar Nafisi]

Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books

For two years before she left Iran in 1997, Nafisi gathered seven young women at her house every Thursday morning to read and discuss forbidden works of Western literature. They were all former students whom she had taught at university. Some came from conservative and religious families; others were progressive and secular; several had spent time in jail.
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Publisher's Summary

For two years before she left Iran in 1997, Nafisi gathered seven young women at her house every Thursday morning to read and discuss forbidden works of Western literature. They were all former students whom she had taught at university. Some came from conservative and religious families; others were progressive and secular; several had spent time in jail. They were shy and uncomfortable at first, unaccustomed to being asked to speak their minds, but soon they began to open up and to speak more freely, not only about the novels they were reading but also about themselves, their dreams and disappointments. Their stories intertwined with those they were reading, Pride and Prejudice, Washington Square, Daisy Miller, and Lolita, their Lolita, as they imagined her in Tehran.

Nafisi's account flashes back to the early days of the revolution, when she first started teaching at the University of Tehran amid the swirl of protests and demonstrations. In those frenetic days, the students took control of the university, expelled faculty members and purged the curriculum. When a radical Islamist in Nafisi's class questioned her decision to teach The Great Gatsby, which he saw as an immoral work that preached falsehoods of "the Great Satan", she decided to let him put Gatsby on trial and stood as the sole witness for the defense.

Azar Nafisi's luminous tale offers a fascinating portrait of the Iran-Iraq war viewed from Tehran and gives us a rare glimpse, from the inside, of women's lives in revolutionary Iran. It is a work of great passion and poetic beauty, written with a startlingly original voice.

©2003 Azar Nafisi; (P)2004 Recorded Books, LLC

What the Critics Say

"This book transcends categorization as memoir, literary criticism, or social history, though it is superb as all three." (Publishers Weekly)
"Nafisi's determination and devotion to literature shine through, and her book is an absorbing look at primarily Western classics through the eyes of women and men living in a very different culture." (Booklist)
"Remarkable...an eloquent brief on the transformative power of fiction." (The New York Times)
"A spirited tribute both to the classics of world literature and to resistance against oppression." (Kirkus Reviews)

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

3.7 (567 )
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  •  
    Sabrina Mililani, HI, United States 04-28-06
    Sabrina Mililani, HI, United States 04-28-06
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Not for everyone"

    I love memoirs, and I generally prefer non-fiction to fiction. I bought this audiobook because I wanted to learn more about Iran, and because it got some glowing customer reviews. I made it through about 8 hours and have now given up on it. My personal complaints: The narrative is not presented in a linear fashion, it jumps around in time and place; the bits about life in Iran are very interesting, but frustratingly buried between lengthy high-school-lecture type analyses of various works of fiction; and I know this is petty, but I found the narrator's voice to be very unpleasant. She does something with her Rs that grates me like nails on a chalkboard. I have read and enjoyed a number of the books Nafisi discusses, but that didn't help me enjoy this book.

    If you enjoyed your high school English classes, have a good imagination, and don't mind plots that jump around through time and place, you may well like this book, but it's not for everyone.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Daniel Cleveland, OH, United States 01-31-05
    Daniel Cleveland, OH, United States 01-31-05 Member Since 2015
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    "A wonderful book"

    This audiobook is a wonderful piece of literature. It combines biography, history, literary criticism, social criticism/analysis all into a single package. Some listeners may find the movement from one topic to another alittle disconcerting. I did not. It seems to drive the book, & helps avoid getting bogged down in a single line-of-argument. The reader is also excellent.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    january huntersville, NC, United States 09-08-12
    january huntersville, NC, United States 09-08-12 Member Since 2013
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "I loved it, but not good for 10th grade reading"

    This book was my fifteen year old son's summer reading book for 10th grade. My son HATES to read, so I bought it on Audible thinking it might be easier for him. I had heard of this book before and the description of it sounded wonderful, so I decided to listen to it as well. I sent my son to his room with my Kindle, and I began listening on my phone. Of course I made much faster progress than he did, and it wasn't long before I realized the school had made some sort of mistake.

    I love books, and think all books have some relevance. I am not the sort of mother who tries to guard my son from every evil in the world, and I certainly think it's important for him to understand the oppression women have, and continue to face in countries such as Iran. Having said that, there are some very adult themes in this book that some parents and students may find unpleasant.

    Within the first couple of hours Azar Nafisi talks about the discussion she and some of her female students have about the book Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov. She gives a brief description and then some longer examples of the storyline. In doing so she talks about the imprisonment and rape of a 13 year old girl (Lolita) by a 39 year old man (Humbert Humbert). As I was listening to this I was captivated by the narration, then it dawned on me: My 15 year old son will read this. I began to get a little nervous, but I thought of how I would explain it to him. I thought I would say, we have no basis of comparison to this story, no compartment to put this in in our minds. But women in Iran could understand this story in a way we can't. They live in a world where an old man can marry a girl as young as nine years old. And while it is legal in their country and illegal in the book, there are still correlations between the book and their everyday lives.

    Then I came to the part that talks about some writings of the Ayatollah Khomeini, Supreme Leader of Iran from 1979 to 1989. I had read some excerpts of these writings before. They deal with religious laws and instructions. The part that Nafisi relates is a part I was previously unaware of. It suggests that a man might use a farm animal for certain things, but raises the religious and moral question of whether the man can then eat the animal. The account in the book is very descriptive and mentions the use of chickens specifically. This is disgusting, but, as an adult, I can handle it. I again thought of my 15 year old son reading this and not having the life experience or emotional maturity to handle such things.

    I immediately sent an email to my son's English teacher expressing my concerns. I asked if she could explain to me how they would handle such topics in a classroom setting. I did this because I knew the book was picked by a committee of school administrators and that she probably had nothing to do with it. She met with me and explained that the first time she read the book was a couple of weeks before the start of school. She had been just as shocked when she had come across the same things in the book and said that she was going to skip any mention of those two parts if at all possible. There had only been a couple of other parents that had come forward to question the choice of this book, but that was enough for her to get permission from the school to let as many students as wanted to use another book as their reading project.

    I know this is long winded, so I will end with this. I was truly moved, not only by the story of the struggles of women in Iran, but also by Azar Nafisi's profound love of words. Because she loves them so much she is able to take those words and bend and shape them into a vibrant description of her life and experiences. This book is well worth reading if you are an adult.

    2 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Barbara 06-22-15
    Barbara 06-22-15

    A bookworm since a child. Love audible books.

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Iranian Book Club"
    Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

    If someone wants a glimpse of another culture, I would recommend this book.


    What other book might you compare Reading Lolita in Tehran to and why?

    This book is different than other books I have read


    What does Lisette Lecat bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

    The narrator makes it feel like the author is recalling the tale herself.


    Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

    No, but it was enjoyable listening.


    Any additional comments?

    It was interesting that these women found hope and enjoyment in English literature in an oppressive government regime.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Bill Pennock West Sacramento, CA USA 06-20-15
    Bill Pennock West Sacramento, CA USA 06-20-15 Member Since 2015
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    "Amazing look into the culture of post revolution Iran"

    For A description of the book I can only direct you to the excellent article on Wikipedia. To this I will add two footnotes. First I was struck by the capacity for humans to continue to desire and act on individual liberty in the face of extreme oppression. Second, the amazing ability of some humans to justify pure evil done for their own selfish and power hungry satisfaction using religion.
    But the book is for more than The description in Wikipedia or either of my statements. It is an examination of the deeply complex relationships of people with other people, with society, with the state and with fiction.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Prof 01-29-15
    Prof 01-29-15 Member Since 2013
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    "Very thought provoking"

    It was great to have the book read aloud because it gave me the feeling of sitting in a cafe with a friend. I could imagine myself in the Islamic Republic.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Joshua A. Nichols Wichita, KS 01-16-15
    Joshua A. Nichols Wichita, KS 01-16-15 Member Since 2015
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    "This book is boreing and way too stuffy."
    This book wasn’t for you, but who do you think might enjoy it more?

    I want my money back


    What do you think your next listen will be?

    I want my money back


    Who would you have cast as narrator instead of Lisette Lecat?

    I want my money back


    What reaction did this book spark in you? Anger, sadness, disappointment?

    It's so boring


    Any additional comments?

    I want my money back.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    MOJO 01-11-15
    MOJO 01-11-15 Member Since 2013
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    "Heart Wrenching!! If you've lived through it..."

    In all my years of flirting and love making with books, has a single piece of work ever awakened so many intense emotions in me as Reading Lolita in Tehran.

    I have felt such overflow of sadness, joy, nostalgia, anger, resentment, shock and exaltation and in many cases two or more of these emotions simultaneously.

    Never before have I felt this strong of an impulse to go back and plow through my childhood memories. With all the trauma of war and fear of death of my friends and family.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Julie 10-09-14
    Julie 10-09-14
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Self-absorbed academic essay more than enjoyable novel"

    3 stars, maybe 3.5 if I'm being generous. 3.5 or 3.75 for the narration, which may have sounded so pedantic simply because of the text she was reading. The concept of the book was great (a memoir in books -- telling this woman's story of her experiences (and those of some of her female students) before, during and mainly after the revolution in Iran by comparing their experiences and living in Iran and the regime in general to the themes and characters in great novels in literature), but unfortunately the execution was flawed. The author is a literature professor, and she could not get out of that role as an author. The book felt more like a critical essay by an academic than a memoir or a story. She was so often "teaching" the reader, that it became tiresome and made her sound like she cared more about the sound of her own voice than the reader's experience. I'm sure many people like this book because of the unique perspective on classic novels and life in Iran post-revolution, but all of that was overshadowed for me by the presentation of that perspective. For that reason, I can't say whether I recommend it or not; it depends on what you like to read.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    chris VILLA PARK, IL, United States 08-11-13
    chris VILLA PARK, IL, United States 08-11-13 Member Since 2014
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    4
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    "A book for every American woman"
    If you could sum up Reading Lolita in Tehran in three words, what would they be?

    What an impact!.


    What other book might you compare Reading Lolita in Tehran to and why?

    Nothing comparable...One of a kind.


    What about Lisette Lecat’s performance did you like?

    Great narration...well spoken.


    Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

    For every woman who ever thought they couldn't overcome a situation. I both laughed and cried...truly unbelievable.


    Any additional comments?

    A book for every American woman to either read or listen to. It is deep and intense but we'll spoken. I definite life lesson. A knowledge of historical fiction...the great Gatsby...etc. is a definite bonus but not necessary.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful

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