Reading Lolita in Tehran
Memoir, Randomhouse 2003.
Paperback, 347 pages
This memoir is a sure delightful read among readers as they can immediately connect with the relish of the author in reading in a way that only readers can savor. Though I do not read fiction nowadays, I still can relate to the joy of reading. But amazingly, this book offers more.
While the author and her students reflect on their lack of freedom in their country, Islamic Republic of Iran, in every character or circumstance in the novel that they read, I cannot help myself from reflecting as to how in my country, Philippines, freedom is disregarded simply because it is just around. I can only conclude that want is always a good motivator in achieving something.
The memoir tells of a reading circle hosted by the author for two years at her house at the time when universities were either closing or being dictated by Mujahideen (holy warriors) and when the author was out of her job as a professor (to her relief, of course). Books were scarce and reading of foreign books are outlawed and can send one to prison for indefinite period of time. This situation made me think of the influx of secondhand bookstores and libraries, the availabilty of internet everywhere and the encouragement of reading in my country and how we still miss reading quality books, how we abuse the social media just because we can access the internet, and the fact that reading is foregone because of youtubes and free films. Despite our freedom to read, we are not known as a nation of readers but a nation of over-the-board texting and social media users. If we lose this freedom of reading books/accessing the net, perhaps, I can imagine we will be salivating for one more book or pay whatever price just to use the net for important matters.
The memoir made me understand the suffering of women when leaders of a Muslim country decides to interpret the Islamic teachings in such a way that even just wearing the veil is mandatory since showing a strand of hair or neck is evil because it can attract a man. I consider this memoir as a window to peep on the Islam faith and politics. There were no liquors, no nailpolishes and blush-ons during those years in Iran. On the otherhand, this part made me realize that the freedom to drink alcohol is certainly abused in my country. Alcohol consumption in the Philippines is nearly insane since alcohol is cheap and available in every small community stores that even minors can buy and that alcohol-related illness and deaths are a public health concern already. Regarding supposed seduction of women by wearing nailpolishes and blush-ons, I can only think deeply and sadly as to how my country's liberty to court or establish romantic relations are abused given the many cases of seduction and sexual assault cases as well as the prevalence of sexual permissiveness, prostitution, online dating and porn sites being accessed.
Reading this memoir made me also think of that forced desire of the author to leave her country because of its ills and her accompanying longings of familiarity when she left it is like that of our ofws and immigrants who chose to better their lives even if the same is not true since leaving one's country is always about uprooting and discovering the ills of ideal adoptive country.
Why am I reflecting a lot while reading this memoir? I guess because the author influenced me because all throughout the book, she reflects on the novels and applied each character or plot or even the life of the author she reads. For one, she is fond of Nabokov because Nabokov wrote his novels while the revolution is on-going and writing became his medicine, if not temporary vacation, from violence. She likened it to her desire to read at the time of her country's own change of politics which gave her so much emotional and intellectual disturbances.
This memoir is a gift to understanding another culture. This is a celebration of how reading can empower helpless individuals. This book is full of reflections worth our every cent, whereever one is and whatever one reads.
Reading Lolita in Tehran
Memoir, Randomhouse 2003.
Paperback, 347 pages
My reading can only go on if can I underline something. Here are some passages which I underlined when I finally saw my marker halfway through the book. Sorry, this bad habit is hard to let go.
The balance between the public and the private world is essential to this world.
Perhaps she married so often because marriage was easier in Iran than having a boyfirend.
In our case, the law really was blind; in its mistreatment of women, it knew no religion, race or creed.
At the core of the fight for political rights is the desire to protect ourselves, to prevent the political from intruding on our individual lives. Personal and political are interdependent but not one and the same thing.
The first lesson in fighting tyrranny is to do your own thing and satisfy your own conscience.
They risk ostracism and poverty to gain love and companionship, and to embrace the elusive goal at the heart of democracy: the right to choose.
It's frightening to be free, to have to take responsibility for your decisions. Yes, he said, to have no Islamic Republic to blame.
Inside the sealed country, Stalin poured on the old death. In the West, the ordeal is of a new death. There aren't any words for what happens to the soul in the free world.
All that is good in their eyes comes from America or Europe, from chocolates and chewing gum to Austen and the Declaration of Independence. Bellow gives them a truer experience of this other place. He allows them to see its problems and fears.
We are not with the regime in our hearts and minds, one had said, but what can we do but comply?
How does the soul survive? is the essential question. And the response is: through love and imagination.
“Perhaps to remain a poet in such circumstances,” Bellow wrote, “is also to reach the heart of politics.”
Memories have ways of becoming independent of the reality they evoke. They can soften us against those we were deeply hurt by or they can make us resent those we once accepted and loved unconditionally.
It was a special brand of cowardice, a destructive defense mechanism, forcing others to listen to the most horrendous experiences and yet denying them the moment of empathy: don't feel sorry for me; nothing is too big for me to handle.
There in jail, we dreamed of just being outside, free, but when I came out, I discovered that I missed that sense of solidarity we had in jail, the sense of purpose, the way we tried to share memories and food.
Other people's sorrows and joys have a way of reminding us of our own; we partly empathize with them because we ask ourselves: What about me? What does that say about my life, my pains, my anguish?
Mahshid and I have been talking about that, about how ever since we could remember, our religion has defined every single action we've taken.
If one day I lose my faith, it will be like dying and having to start new again in a world without guarantees.
I wanted to write a book in which I would thank the Islamic republic for all the things it had taught me