Book Review: Reading Lolita in Tehran

Well, this is awkward. Twice in one month, we’re looking at a non-fiction title. I promise not to make it a habit. 

Reading Lolita In Tehran is a best-selling, powerful memoir about maintaining individuality and purpose in the face of powerful opposition, and the inspirational power of fiction.  

The Basics:

Title: Reading Lolita in Tehran
Author: Azar Nafisi
Genre: Non-fiction, History, witness literature, memoir
Published: 2004, Random House

Spoiler-Free Summary:

Demonstrations at College Square

Reading Lolita follows a professor’s life as she struggles through the 1979 Iranian revolution and the radical cultural upheaval that follows. As a teenager and young woman, Nafisi can dress how she likes, socialize publicly with unrelated men, and read or teach what she wants. After the revolution, these rights are stripped away practically overnight. A desperate ideological regime goes to cruel lengths to force its image of cloistered, controlled femininity on its subjects. Free spirits like Nafisi are prisoners in their own country.

Her personal rebellion is to start a private class with a handful of dedicated students. In this book-club-on-jet-fuel, they share, relate, dream, and debate their way through soul-crushing challenges while dissecting great works of 19th century literature. 

Fair warning: if you planned to get around to The Great Gatsby, Lolita, Daisy Miller, or Pride and Prejudice, you should probably read those before this memoir. Nafisi’s thorough and enlightening analysis will spoil the heck out of these books.

Why You’ll Love This Book:

Reading Lolita is a luxurious love letter to books. The prose is lyrical and vibrant. You see the women in the groups, feel the Iranian winter, and hear the scream of rockets falling. I wish I could describe what I’ve read with a tenth of Nafisi’s eloquence. 

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on

Although politics intersects the narrative, it is not really a political tale. Rather, the focus is on the personal impact of big decisions on individual lives. The memoir invites the reader to laugh with, cry for, and rage against the unspeakable pain these women overcome. 

As an American, there is a lot that I find lacking in the state of our national conversation. This book makes me appreciate anew the freedom we have to have that conversation without fear of persecution. 

Where Can You Learn More?

The usual suspects apply: Check out Goodreads, or the author’s website.


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