Stop Reading Lolita in Tehran!


Stop Reading Lolita in Tehran!
by bahmani

Recently (No, like this past week) yet another article lauding the inglourious Nafisi as our best foot forward at contemporary literature appeared once again. Nothing against Nafisi personally, but I simply haven't found her to be all that good, to be honest. Maybe she reads better in Farsi. Although her (main) book did have a very catchy title.

The premise of her most productive book to-date, namely that women inside Iran would gather and under Nafisi's not so steady hand read and discuss (among other similarly demeaning works of literature) Lolita. The incredible (and I mean that literally) book by Vladimir Nabokov written in 1955. Once again, the past will not let an Iranian obsess in peace.

This frankly troubles me. Sure, it's a poignantly fitting premise. I mean, who would not get the irony? That whole obvious parallel?

Women in Iran dominated and oppressed by an ugly entire system and society, one that seeks to perpetually subjugate, oppress, and if possible exterminate them from very view. Now juxtapose Nabokov's novel about a not attractive older man's obsessively examined and re-examined sexual and total obsession with the book's 12 year old namesake.

We get it. Iranian women in Iran, are in many ways, the very same Lolita. Certainly so.

But… If you were on the very edge of it, of all books to choose from, why in god's name would you ever pick up Lolita! It would seem counter-intuitive and that when in despair, the last thing you need is to attend a secret reading session with Nafisi, and wallow in your collective misery! To celebrate a man's deepest desire? Even more than you are legally bound and spiritually led to do on a daily basis?

Let us look at exactly what happens in Lolita, so that the possible sheer madness in choosing this book over others, can be brought to a bit of light.

Spoiler Alert….

First off, Lolita dies. Not an un-horrible death, but the kind of death that absolutely all women absolutely fear the most, namely dying during childbirth. Imagine reading this in Tehran or anywhere in Iran for that matter and then having to drive home. Alone. I don't care how big a rock star Nafisi might be, that is one long lonely drive home. Even Benyamin couldn't pop you out of that depression.

What you'd think Iranian women in Tehran need most, is something inspiring and uplifting to keep them from losing their minds in no-women-allowed-Iran. You know, a story with actual hope. More importantly one that teaches you how to cope. And win.

Second, in the story, the man wins. Wow! So after all that pain and oppressive character manipulation and guilt tripping, the character that deserves the most retribution, gets away with it in the end? Twice! How's that healthy for women to read about?

OK, right there, I don't care if I'm not a woman (or am I ?), and if I may or may not have all the right senses to contemplate this fully as a man living in ghorbat, but I'd like to think that with an ending and plot like this, when assembling the list of books we would consider reading in a secret room with Azar Nafisi somewhere in Tehran, this one, Lolita, would most certainly be left off the list. Crossed off with a sharpie.

Third, the entire story revolves around the man, Humbert. A disgusting worst example of an entirely weak cheater of a man. His obsession and sexual desires, pointed right and directly at this young girl, is evaluated, re-evaluated, examined and re-examined over and over again, as if in doing so the grand crime of it all will somehow be justified, if we just keep on keeping it on the forefront of our single topic discussion. Lolita? forget her, this book is all about Humbert and his selfish desire to dominate her. She's even painted not so subtly as a manipulative minx.

Although Nabokov himself said that there was no actual point to his story, and that it was based on a story he read, about an ape in captivity that drew an image on paper, and that Lolita most certainly did not have a moral, apparently Nafisi can see things in it that no one else can. Good for her. She champions Lolita despite a worse than bad luck, having been entirely dominated, oppressed, manipulated by her captor Humbert. From age 12 to the very last day when she dies horribly. Hopelessly and with no good graspable point of inspired vinidcation to anything remotely positive, at all. Somehow, despite the author's own words, Nafisi still sees some mysteriously hidden greater point. And bless her heart if she actually finds personal solace in a brutal murder.

Although Humbert and Nabokov together it seems, outright continuously steal, crush, and destroy Lolita's innocence at every turn of the page, all in the juvenile pursuit of Humbert's own selfish and immature desires, and Nabokov's less than veiled "exploration" of an evil in the heart of every man, Nafisi would somehow have us believe that somewhere between those real and the lines she sees in Nabokov's book, lies Lolita's heart of a champion, and that witnessing her fierce independence snuffed out so easily by nothing more than a mere weak-willed cheat of a man, in the end, is somehow useful in the greater dialogue of the modern Iranian woman in Iran today. Or, apparently, misery loves company. A lot of it. If misery were Polo, Lolita would be Tahdeeg.

That could all be very well and true. Maybe there is something to be said for the women in Nafisi's book club commiserating with Nafisi and Lolita, in Tehran. Maybe it's all about the fulcrum and not leverage. Maybe the opposite of something that seems so outright intuitively wrong, is actually wrong, and that the intuitively wrong thing, is somehow right and actually good for you or your soul. But I'm not so sure. All that healthy dialogue over despair, while just outside, in the streets, the very real "Humbert's" surround every single slightest move you and your guilty hair make. Institutionally, Constitutionally, and Revolutionally, Iran itself is Humbert reincarnate. De-incarnate. So I'd think some sort of escapist alternate reality in which women are free and win the day, would be high on the order. You know, good old delusional positive optimism. A woman's Clint Eastwood.

Nabokov's Lolita is an acknowledged brilliant western literary exploration of feeling. A very bad feeling to be sure. And one that should of course be kept hidden in that deep darkness of a man's dirty cave of depravity and animal netherplace. There is no doubt that the sheer un-controlled, un-apologetic exploration and indulgence of a man's ultimate sex-domination-fantasy, is obviously freeing at some level. But freeing for men. Not women.

Witnessing poor Lolita's long and slow fall and ultimate plight of pointlessness, I have to wonder what possible beneficial point it could ever offer today's Iranian women on the very verge.


more from bahmani
hamsade ghadimi


by hamsade ghadimi on

the title of your article "don't read lolita in tehran" bears an anti-awareness message.  i may tell people not to buy sarah palin book because i find it full of garbage, but i would also tell them "go to your library and read it for yourself to see what i mean."  basically, don't support palin by buying her book.  otherwise, you should come up with a list of all the books one (or certain group of people) should not read.

i don't think of iranian women as delicate flowers that we should protect by withholding 'doom and gloom' books from them because it reminds them of their helpless situation.  as a reader, you should know the danger of such proposition.

humbert, whether he was intended as portrayal of a pedophile, whether in the time period that 'lolita' came out was perceived as a pedophile by the readers, has become synonymous with pedophilia.  so no one can categorically deny that humbert was not a pedophile.  it's up to the interpretation of the reader, and this reader thinks that humbert is a pedophile.  this pattern has been continuously repeated where pedophiles marry women to have access to their young children.  in fact, the urban dictionary defines the word humbert as a pedophile: //



by Gavazn on

I find what clergy in Qom do to underage boys more disturbing than reading fiction. Someone was telling me off the other day for not liking Hate Speech, but would discouraging people to write freely or read fiction not be curtailing free speech? It does not mean people will turn into paedophiles.

(am I shallow?) 


No such thing as too much criticism...

by bahmani on

If by criticism we focus only on negative criticism, I agree. That is ultimately useless. I am by no means criticizing (negatively) Nabokov's great work. I am criticizing or critiquing on the wisdom Nafisi has employed in choosing the works she chose for her Tehran women's reading club/group. I still think that especially for Iranian women, in the very predicament they are today, namely, the most institutionally and systematically oppressed human beings on the planet, they are reasonably damaged. And to indulge in yet more male domination fantasy, cannot be healthy. To read about Humbert's betrayal of innocence, and outright manipulation, and then to have to go out and face it forefront in the streets of Tehran, has got to be pure hell. I don't get or understand that kind of "therapy". Which is why I ask. Great job everyone, your comments are amazing.



by R2-D2 on

Thank you for your comment - You essentially picked up where I had left off in my comment below :)

Simply put, too much emphasis on the criticism of a great work of art, again, whether that's in literature, music, painting, etc., leads us to fall into that very  trap of missing the forest for the tree!

A great work of art, at its very core, and in its true essence, is meant to transpose, tranform, and indeed even transcend, our day to day and mundane consciousness and experiences, into a state of enlightenment, ecstasy, and hopefully, even bliss!

To allow our minds to get engaged in too much criticism of that work, in essence, it's analogous to the killing of the proverbial goose that lays the golden egg!

Again, Thank You For Your Comment :) - ! 




Bahmani, with due respect

by gunjeshk on

Re: "DK: I am not sure that I agree with assigning the "pedophile" label to Humbert.  .  . "

Bahmani, with due respect, failing to recognize Humbert as a pedophile is closely linked to the inability to see why Nabokov drew intentionally disturbing portraits of his characters. As Nafisi tried to show the students in her book, the characters and the story of Lolita were meant to be cautionary, to be examples of how things go wrong when a young girl is not empowered and an older man exploits the cultural biases around him.

Humbert, a weak man, uses Lolita. Lolitas's mother is disposed of (murdered) by him. Lolita herself dies young. It has taken us a half a century to really see what Nabokov was writing about. None of us, including you, want our daughters to experience this kind of exploitation, which is why we educate them. Which is why sheltering them is not helpful.

Re: HB: " . . .I don't understand how exposing yourself to the kinds of literary examples of hopeless fate, and continuous examples of male domination subtly plied on hapless women, the thing that seems wrong to do is actually good for you. . . "

No one, especially Nabokov is saying that male domination is good. Did you read Anna Karinina? (Tolstoy) Madame Bovary? (Flaubert) These are two of the greatest books in western literary tradition. Nabokov was not going where others authors did not go before. He was moderizing a theme and adding nuance. In many ways, the events of Lolita are more outrageous and harder to excuse than Tolstoy's or Flaubert's.

For the a recent  update of this theme, see Orhan Pamuk's paean to the disempowerment of women in his latest novel, "Museum of Innocence."

Western literature has exemplied the negative since the 19th century by illustrating societal problems and by telling the story of women who experience the gender inquality.

Academic study of these books has not caused waves of suicidal depression. They have aided generations of women to become aware of their own empowerment, (often with scant support from their male peers). Women don't need protection from "hopeless fate." That is how women end up like Lolita, Anna Karinina, or Madame Bovary.

Yes, as we know, it still happens. We have a country that encourages sigheh, filled men who think it a good alternative.  Like men, women need to be free to envision their destiny as partners of men, only we realize our potential as civilized beings.


Excellent blog and

by Arthimis on

Excellent blog and excellent comments by so many... Wow! I am very glad to see so many very deep and educated Iranians here commenting and exchanghing opinions and reasons... I agree with many here, particularly by one comment! R2-D2's comment interested me perhaps the most about this whole Lolita thing/s... (Original and Tehran versions) :

He/She wrote: "Having said all of that, I personally believe that a great work
of art transcends all duality: good or evil; beautiful or ugly; etc.,
etc. - The moment that we introduce judgment into it, we are essentially
limiting our full experience of that work!"

Couldn't agree more... Judgements, though necessary in real life situations, are essentially derived from mind, thoughts and ego, ultimately!Any form of Art (literature included) despite of its perhaps negative impressions and or impacts on masses, shall be Free to transcend irrespective of our own personal judgements about it... Of course that is only in my humble view...

Health, Awareness, Consciousness, Freedom, Love and Peace...


Azarin Sadegh

If I had time..

by Azarin Sadegh on

To Bahmani: If I had time, I'd have loved to write about Kafka and Beckett and especially going deeper over your remark as Beckett being the fun one of these two..:-) I can only say that I assume you haven't read Beckett's trilogy (Malloy, Malone Dies and the Unnamable)

But I guess we're not supposed to have fun on this thread (like most of IC's commenting sections, we're supposed to act offended and offensive. Almost like a war zone, trying to prove who's going to have the last word, etc..but it has nothing to do with your question.)

Back to your question: You asked what is the purpose of reading (and writing) books like Lolita or any work by Kafka or Beckett (books about nothing) and whether it is ultimately healthy or useful to our evolution?

Kafka would have replied, no. That’s why he asked his friend to destroy all his unpublished work…But let me ask you: If Kafka truly believed that his work was useless, (I think he even thought they were dangerous) how come he kept writing the same kind of books, the same kind of literature?

What does it tell you?  Do you really think that Kafka had a choice?

I think, Bahmani aziz, you are asking the wrong question. I think that writers write about subjects they can’t escape from. Most memoirists write because they are haunted by something ... something that would probably appear like a little nothing for others. But for the writer, this is something that comes back (over and over) almost like a nightmare which poisons their life. Writers are pretty much obsessive people. But they don't have another option but to write about it.

Now why some people like to read about nothingness?

We have different kinds of readers, and this is a good thing! For some readers, it is important to escape into a better world, a world with a happy ending where people live happily ever after… Some readers look for practical ways of creating a better world, a socially just world...Some might only like to read to forget themselves..others want to find out who they are.

But some other readers look for a book which would extend their understanding of human condition in any shape and form. I think this is how one's empathy is formed, an empathy which goes way beyond the cultures and borders.

After reading Lolita, and after going so deeply into the mind of a murderer, how would you be able to remain indifferent to cruelty? But also, you cannot help it, but you’ve developed a kind of empathy for both victim and criminal…it is inevitable.

In my case, I am a sucker for exquisite prose, for beauty which comes from thoughts and though provoking texts, and I'd almost die reading perfect single lines which stun me and take my breath away and "stab me" (if I borrow Kafka's quote)...since they reflect - so clearly -- a truth which has been mine, but to that date, I didn't know or hadn't succeeded in describing them in such concise (and gorgeous) form.

Sorry Bahmani! I think my comment is getting out of hand...Az.


had a gf looking like that

by Darveesh on

yadash khosh

Red Wine


by Red Wine on

لولیتا ، تجربی است... به خواندن دیگر آن وقتی‌ چنان نشاید !

با سپاس ...



I was so bored with Nabokov's and Kubrick's Lolita, that

by Marjaneh on

rest assured that I shan't bother torturing myself with an "iranian" version.

Every fascism is an index of a failed revolution - Walter Benjamin


Sometimes you get addicted to Misery as a coping mechanism

by vildemose on

Happy In Your Misery
Entangled in your woes
Searching for some sympathy
So must the sky just fall?
From heaven up above
For you to start your evolution

Consumed and energized
Addicted if you will
Your drug is pity
And you love your tragic pill
What will it take for you
To climb out of your life
When will you find a resolution?

And here you are
So happy in your misery
You`re angry at the world
You`re angry at your history
You think the screaming scrapes
Of life are soley yours
You`d rather wallow in your sh*t
Then climb ashore

I`m tired of your bitchin`
And your chomping on my ear
The world keeps moving
but you`ll still be hear next year
In your misery
In your misery
In your misery

by Seven and the Sun



Replies to: Azarin Sadegh, Darius Kadivar, Human Being

by bahmani on

AS: Great response. Your mention of Beckett and Kafka are the very same reasoning I question the choice in reading of Lolita by "Iranian Women on the Very Edge" (how's that for a better title?). The pattern of reading B & K, to me is largely the same, meaning a lot of hopeless resignation and fate, and that things are generally not in our hands. Beckett is funnier and simpler, Kafka's brilliance will stop you in your tracks and... "Oh! Wow!" you for days. While this is a seeming tendency amongst our sisters (and brothers too!), I am trying to question whether it is ultimately healthy or useful to our evolution. Does what seems like wallowing in misery (our real life, and now our fantasy book reading choices) serve any purpose? Keep in mind that I believe that we as Iranians are suffering from 2500 years of the Stockholm Syndrome!

DK: I am not sure that I agree with assigning the "pedophile" label to Humbert. Rather I think he is merely a resigned loser who feels that his best life was when he too was 12, and in capturing Lolita, unsuccessfully tries to be the 12 year old boy he once was, again. This delusion manifests itself back into the present, a deep ugliness he finds himself in, almost always after the consummation of his 12 year-old's "desire for pure love" in the from of adult sex. He then rightly feels the guilt, and the cycle of self hatred and oghdeh begins again. Over and over again, as Nabokov rather obsessively explores in detail, each time. Again, my point is, I don't think this is a healthy recommended read for Iranian women on the very edge.

HB: I think I see your point and I am almost there except for the remaining question I have in all of this, which is, I don't understand how exposing yourself to the kinds of literary examples of hopeless fate, and continuous examples of male domination subtly plied on hapless women, the thing that seems wrong to do is actually good for you. I don't get that idea. It seems better to go in the other direction of inspired, hopeful, winning. I would think Iranian women reading and discussing Lolita (or Austen even) would be some sort of bizarre syndrome of wallowing in one's self misery. Kind of like "If you can't get out of it, get into it!". I don't know, it just seems wrong to me is all.


Lolita is wholly cautionary

by gunjeshk on

I am sorry to see Ms. Nafisi become the object of controversy. She deserve more than the criticism she often gets. On the other hand, that is what great cutting-edge art, does; it inspires discourse and thought.  Who would argue that Iranian men and women don’t need this?

Lolita, as a character is wholly cautionary, she is not held up to be example worthy of emulation. Nabokov foresaw the trends in Western pop culture that have lead to sexual exploitation of women, when he wrote the book 50 years ago (he was true genius). Nabokov drafted the characterization of an utterly loathsome personality, Humbert Humbert (even his name is despicable). Only in hindsight and after considerable time can we immediately spot Humbert Humbert for what he is: a textbook depiction of a pedophile.

Examination of H.H’s manipulative scheming to gain access though marriage to Lolita’s mother depicts real pedophilic strategy. Witness the statistical number of young girls raped by their own stepfather.

Like it or not, there are uncountable millions of men who idealize the possession of a child-bride or minimally, a virginal woman. Trafficking of young women as "sex workers" across the globe is epidemic.  

It looks as though the Iranian community must undergo the same conscience-raising arguments that took place in 70’s America.  Some men and their defenders may feel that Iranian manhood is on trial, but eventually we will learn to reexamine our cultural programming because women who simply want equality will not accept less.  Is Iranian manhood so fragile that a book threatens it?  I doubt it.  

A serious reexamination of cultural standards has to happen in our society if it is to advance in a meaningful way toward gender equality.  To do less, is to accept all the ways that women are legally devalued by current Iranian law. I wish more books by Iranian authors could generate the kind of dialogue we are see in regard to "Reading Lolita in Tehran." Nafisi struck a pulsing nerve. The debates here on IC only demonstrate how insightful her work has been.

Darius Kadivar

humanbeing I agree

by Darius Kadivar on

Regarding Polanski's case, genius or not he escaped responsability for his actions and that is not good. In Cannes this year some refused to sign the petition distributed by French Philosopher BHL ( Bernard Henri Levi) in his favor including Michael Douglas whose own son is in Prison but nearly everyone signed the petition for Jafar Panahi whose crime was only to try and make a movie.

That said Polanski's predicament ressembles more of a Witch Hunt which is truly morbid given the fact that the main victim wishes privacy and cleary overcame much of her traumas which resulted the rape ( I don't use any other term cause doing that to a kid is rape no matter how one looks at it).

What is however hypocritical is not only the Swiss judiciary/government's attitude given that they hardly care about extradicting all those Arms Dealers with unidentified bank accounts in their country but suddenly express rage and indignation over a filmmaker's sexual depravity and moral decadence after years of sheltering him as a regular resident in their country. Using the pretext of arresting him when he entered the country to receive and honorary award at a Film Festival in Geneva, seems to me so convenient when they could have done this on so many other occasions.

pedophilia, rape or even incest ( the Utmost unforgivable crime in my opinion) are very difficult issues which demand great scrutiny and objectivity to evaluate a person's responsability or even guilt.

I think Society and education play a major role in these questions because the interactions between an individual and his or her surroundings are complex. The psychological factor needs to be taken into account of course but so does how society set's rules to protect itself and judges others in consenquence.

In Ancient Persia for instance Incest was not considered a sin, as a matter of fact we still see many marriages between close cousins which prove medically disastrous for their offsprings. I had some distant family members who were married between cousins and their kid's had obvious physical shortcomings like turning into giants or midgets due to hormonal disturbances resulting from same blood mixtures ( in french you say marriage co sanguin, not sure of the english equivalent) ...

Yet that is not condemned by society at large ...

and the same was true in primitive cultures like Tahiti or Hawaii before the impostion of Christianity.

I highly recommend this excellent film starring Julie Andrews (in a role that contrasts with her rosey Mary Poppins characterisation) and May Von Sydow, and Richard Harris - Hawaii:


Where as in Ancient Rome known for it's sexual depravity, indulgence and encouragement of orgies, Bi sexuality or deadly gladiatorial games, Incest was the only sexual behavior which was morally condemned:

Rome- HBO series - Octavia and sister Atia :


I claudius:Caligula and Mother :


So I think that to some degree these issues are not just linked to individual responsability but social behaviors and their side effects on individuals indirectly or directly.

My humble and uninformed opinion,


PS: Bruce I think after all it's worth Reading Lolita in Tehran, given the debates it generates ... which proves that Azar Nafisi may have hit a cord here ;0)


i don't have the answer, dk

by humanbeing on

just asking the questions, and they are not pc

i guess that first clip with jeremy irons (notice the 'lecherous' and 'evil' men in american film always have emphasized british accents) was too steamy for my computer to handle-- it goes off, so i'll watch the clips later on another computer, dying to see what kubrick does with this!

i'm not interested in who's guilty. guilty of what, seduction or of being provocative, or of being attractive. the responsibility should be with the adult to curb his primitive urges. or hers -- the 'reading boy' (i don't know how it's called in english) is a movie about the older woman (not teacher)/younger guy. a newish german film.

any parent who has not ever had a flash of impulse to gobble up or otherwise physically envelop their beloved child is not aware of their primitive impulses. but as responsible adults of an evolved human species we curb our impulse.

so yes polanski was the 'responsible' (?) adult in that one, but i heard the woman now wants to revoke the prosecution. i don't know the details. it's clear he is a troubled man.

but still, polanski was and is a cinematic genius, my all-time favourite director. i would love to have seen his take on 'lolita'.

Darius Kadivar

Adrian Lyne Vs Kubrick

by Darius Kadivar on

Does She Really Look like a Victim ?


Makes me have second Thoughts of Polanski's alledged "Guilt" ...

A Review of the Kubrick Version:


Stanley Kubrick's Lolita Trailer (1962):


Adrian Lyne's Lolita Trailer (1999):


Also Knowing this is a delicate and touchy question but would one speak of Pedophilia if it were the other way round ? A mature Women and a Young Boy ? ...

As has been the case in recent years of a Teacher making love to her students:


Not sure I have the answer ...




very thoughtprovoking blog and thread

by humanbeing on

leaves me with many open questions, which i put down here in an unsystematic manner. apologies.

azarin, i emphasize what you say, that nabokov's 'lolita' is a literary tour de force: besides the no holds barred treatment of a very problematic theme, the mastery of the english language by a non-native, and other elements, i would love to see a treatment of this work in the context of male writing vis-a-vis female writing, in their many varieties and overlaps. the presentation, the architecture, the voice. not in a divisive way, but in a literary, non-judgmental, almost aesthetic way.

when i first read lolita, like dk says, i was myself not sexually aware enough to pick up on the acute condition described; i was more fascinated by the language and composition, and had first read other works by nabokov, such as 'king, queen, and knave'. 

nafisi's 'reading lolita in tehran' which discusses many works of literature, is an opportunity to read nabokov's 'lolita' in a multivocal prism: the voice of the pedophile character -- conveyed by a narrator in compelling way that we cannot stop listening even as we make some moral judgments, the voice of the nostalgic emigre pining after his first love in romanov (?) or other romanticized imperial russia, the echoes of the censorship controversy, the counterpoint of american puritanism, -- most of these also through a male voice, and the voice of the english literature professor (paradoxically and interestingly, this applies both to the fictional first person narrator humbert, and to the first person autobiographer nafisi), the voice of a happily married woman in an unhappy professional and political existence, the voices of her young students grappling with oppression by state, by family, by partners -- mostly female voices.

of course within the multifaceted prism of nafisi's book and its readership, the --varied -- voices of the iranian women, and the suggested collective pedophilia and annihilation of self is an important point and good that it is brought up.

we do not read belles-lettres like legal transcripts or reuters releases primarily for the information. rather, they can convey a message while opening up ambiguities and complexities. i hope the cinematic remake is done sensitively and in a nuanced way (i notice the director is a woman).

Azarin Sadegh

I think you should read Lolita in Tehran!

by Azarin Sadegh on

Nice title...but I think Nafisi's title has been used too much! Maybe you should come up with an original one..:-)

Ok kidding aside, I agree with you that Reading Lolita in Tehran is so catchy..:-) No wonder many of anti-Nafisi crowd tried to use her title to take advantage for their own mediocre work.  (ex:Keshavarz)

Also, it is great that you've read Lolita and decided to write this review about it, but I find your interpretation a bit different from mine, but it really doesn't matter. This is what freedom is about: having the possibility of reading any book, written by any writer, and after reading it, being able to make up an opinion about it, good or bad or whatever.  

But I disagree with you about reading Lolita in Tehran.

I would even say that it is necessary for the Iranian women to read Lolita. And voila my arguments:

Besides being one of the strongest voices in the American literature, Lolita is a well-written novel. No, even better, it is an excellent novel.

Now we get to the main point: Is a novel worth reading only for its subject (and its strong focus on the Social Justice in particular), or for its literary value? Does it mean that a reader should skip many great literature (Beckett, Kafka, Robbe-Grillet,..) just because there is no connection between her/his daily life with the protagonist's fictional world?

Does the setting of the novel and its theme should be the main factor to make it good or bad? To make it worthless or not?

What is literature? How would you decide about the quality of a work of art? 

If you ask me, I'd choose the literary value. Myself, I read Kafka, and Beckett in 1978 when the revolutionary crowd were messing up their throats..:-) And between us, what I read was about “nothingness” Do I regret? Not at all!...For me, a good novel is about great writing. And great writing is always relevant to this present moment, no matter where we are and what are our problems...Great literature is about the human condition.

So to answer your article, I’d encourage the Iranian women to read Nabokov, because he is a great writer. Because literature has no bundary and is universal.

But let’s assume that the main factor for reading a novel should be its theme/subject.

Even in this case, again, I think we need to read Lolita in Tehran. Why? Because Nabokov describes perfectly the state of mind of a child molester.

Don’t you think that many Basijis and Mollahs and people in Ghom would match this profile? Don’t you think that it is good to know how their brain works so we can prevent crimes? Who else in the world has to face so many child molesters disguised as police officer, spiritual guide, teacher, etc.? I think reading a book about pedophiles would help the population in Iran to learn how to recognize these sickness in people around them and maybe they'd know how to react or avoid them.

So in any case, no matter your response, I think we need to encourage the Reading of Lolita in Tehran!




Just An Observation

by R2-D2 on

There is one issue that I have come to accept over many years of enjoying all forms of arts, whether that's literature, music, paintings, etc., and that issue is, that it's almost impossible to thoroughly and wonderfully enjoy a great piece of art, and yet at the same time, be judgmental about it!

Let me explain what I mean:

For many, many years, I truly enjoyed the great works of the German composer Richard Wagner. However, as I became more and more aware  of the fascination, and even the obsession, that the Nazis in general, and Adolf Hitler in particular, had towards his great music, that in effect took away from my sense of ecstasy of listening to that music!  

This observation that I just shared with you could further be extended to other worlds of arts, ie. literature, paintings, etc., with the same effect. I have to emphasize one point, and that's Richard Wagner died almost a decade before even Adolf Hitler was born! 

Having said all of that, I personally believe that a great work of art transcends all duality: good or evil; beautiful or ugly; etc., etc. - The moment that we introduce judgment into it, we are essentially limiting our full experience of that work!

Pure And Simple :) - !



Anahid Hojjati

Dear Bruce, thanks for a great blog. I agree with you

by Anahid Hojjati on

Dear Bruce, you have written an excellent blog.  You have written about Nafisi 's work from a different angle. I agree with what you have written.   I lived in Iran for more than 5 years after IRI came to power.  We did gather and secretly read books but as you have argued, we had no interest in reading Lolita kind of book. 

We used to read books from writers such as Romain Rolland.  Another book that we read in this book club was the following and from my excerpt, you see why the book had appeal for us.

از ویکی‌پدیا، دانشنامهٔ آزاد پرش به: ناوبری, جستجو


جلد کتاب خرمگس

خرمگس (به انگلیسی: The Gadfly) نام داستانی از نویسنده انگلیسی، اتل لیلیان وینیچ می‌باشد که در دهه ۱۹۶۰ انتشار یافت. این داستان در کشور ایران، توسط خسرو همایون‌پور و نیز ترجمه مشترک داریوش شاهین و سوسن اردکانی به فارسی برگردان شده‌است.

این کتاب در سال ۱۸۹۷ در انگلستان و آمریکا منتشر شد. وینیچ در این کتاب سیمای انسان‌هایی را مجسم کرده‌است که برای کسب آزادی, استقلال و حقوق اجتماعی خود دست به مبارزه می‌زنند و در این راه از مرگ نیز هراسی ندارند. «عشق» در این کتاب مقامی ارجمند دارد.نقش اصلی این کتاب آرتور برتن است که یک انگلیسی مقیم در ایتالیا در زمان سلطهٔ اطریشی ها بر این کشور است، او پس از شکست عشقی خود دست به یک ماجراجویی بزرگ می‌زند و بعدها دوباره به ایتالیا بازمیگردد و در یک گروه انقلابی به کار مشغول می‌شود.

Darius Kadivar

This is an excellent review Bruce

by Darius Kadivar on

You should publish this in the NY Times or a literary magazine.

Seriously !

I'm truly impressed. Nabokov is not the easiest book to grasp and you not only managed to summarize it but get into the bulk  of the themes in this comparative study between Nafisi and Nabokov.

I personally like Nafisi and the critics I have read against her have usually sparked from the regular pseudo "Orientalist" experts and Edward Said Wannabes ( You know the Hamid Dabashi and co) which have absolutely no point other than character assassination of an author they hardly read ( including Nabokov).

But I like your honest assessment and arguments here.

My problem with Nafisi's interpretation ( and that is because I did not understand the novel nor the Stanley Kubrick Film for that matter) was that I did not see Humbert Humbert as a pedophile or sick individual when I read or saw the film in my teens.

I guess I was not old enough to understand the subtle suggestions and the girl Lolita seemed more sexually aware than I was at the same age ...

So when I read that Nafisi was identifying Humbert to the Islamic Republic at first I found that as a Far Fetched and strange comparison. But Now that I think about it again ...

I know that they are planning to make a film but that for the time being there are alot of speculations on who will direct it given that MIRAMAX has purchased the rights.


I just hope that they find a real good director to do it. I am wary of the fact that this may turn into a Bollywood Take on Lolita if you see what I mean ...

Congrats again for your excellent article and solid arguments.