Monday, August 07, 2006

Book club

This past couple of days happened to be UPCAT weekend, and I had the good fortune of staying home and sleeping for most of it. Perhaps, for reasons I outlined in my previous post, I also am almost through with Azar Nafisi's "Reading Lolita in Tehran," a book about a person whose life has been touched by fiction perhaps much more so than I could imagine.

Nafisi writes about her experiences in Iran as the totalitarian regime gains power and becomes increasingly oppressive towards women. After teaching literature for different universities in Tehran, she picks seven of her students to come visit her at her home every Thursday to talk about forbidden Western books. Their little book club becomes a place not only where they could "shed their mandatory veils and robes and burst into color," but where, for several hours, they could escape reality. This escape relates not only to the government intervention in their lives, but also to each woman's innermost fears, insecurities, and emotional scars.

In the first page of the book, Nafisi repeats a warning to her students, "Do not, under any circumstances, belittle a work of fiction by trying to turn it into a carbon copy of real life; what we search for in fiction is not so much reality but the epiphany of truth."

And yet she proceeds through an erudite discussion of some of the canons of Western literature, Fitzgerald's "Great Gatsby", Austen's "Pride and Prejudice", James's "Daisy Miller", and of course, Nabokov's "Lolita", all of which are framed against the backdrop of Tehran during the Islamic revolution. Or it might be just as accurate to describe the book as her writing about being a woman of letters in a country that has just transformed itself into a dangerous place for someone like that, using fiction to amplify the intimacy of her experiences to her readers.

It works both ways. Part of the joy of reading the book is the perspective she gives on her discussion of Lolita and the other books. She makes careful note, once again, of how the novel exists in a whole other world:

A novel is not an allegory, I said as the period was about to come to an end. It is the sensual experience of another world. If you don't enter that world, hold your breath with the characters and become involved in their destiny, you won't be able to empthaize, and empathy is at the heart of the novel. This is how you read a novel: you inhale the experience. So start breathing. I just want you to remember this. That is all; class dismissed.

She is, however, able to draw similarities to relate to her personal circumstances, adding a depth that makes one want to pick up the books again to see what we had missed.

(Now I need to call up my friend who'd had my copy of Lolita since December. I hope she hasn't lost it.)

And then there's the story of Nafisi and her girls. They relate to the "desperate truth of Lolita's story" because they face a desperate truth everyday. Upon her return to Iran, she finds a country willing to accept only a narrow morality. She joins ultimately fruitless protests against requirements for women to wear veils in public, seeing this as a threat to her individuality as a women. Her girls go through the same ordeals, such as humiliating virginity tests and living their public lives devoid of some of the simplest joys, such as holding hands with another man.

But more than these shared experiences, it is the act of reading and discussing the literature that brings the women together. It is this "sensual experience of another world" that allows the women to imagine, to breathe, to be able to survive the insanity the world throws at them, and to display their remarkable strength. And I guess this is why, despite all of the terrible things they have to go through, the book is inspiring and never depressing, hopeful and never desperate.



The book is only ostensibly about any of that. It was written primarily as a money-making venture/ anti-Iran propaganda tool by a woman whose life stateside has consisted mostly of hob-nobbing with top neocons.


Post a Comment<< Home


Weekly Top Artists - Powered by Last.FM

Subscribe to this blog

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

Powered by Blogger

Listed on BlogShares

Pisay 98 Blog
Pisay 98 Website
Pisay 98 Message Boards

Bookish Bimbo
Brooding Pit
cartwheels seven times around the oval
The Ergonomic Quotient
Fire Light Song
For the Mail!
Garden Fresh
I'm ur pAL!!!
the jembunao experience
life, the universe, and everything
The Mighty Dacs
Pro Gamer to Programmer
Purple World
The Raven and the Stormcrow
The sad success story of the corporate slave
Sakura Mind Speaks
Si Yayan, Si Michel at ang Diwata
Sixteenth Floor
Verbal Diarrhea
The Wandering Geek
Whatever You
The Unbearable Lightness of Being Me

502 Bad Gateway
Across the Green Plains
ako? ako. ako. lagi na lang ako...
Anime West
The Buckfutter Blog
Contrast Medium
Locoflip's Xanga Site
Gaming Nookie
getting by...
Just The Type 2 Have 1
life of a kkmonster
the keep
Lock and Load
Memories From Dinner Last Night
Mic Olivares' Blog
Morning Has Broken
Princess Toni's Enchanted Forest
Random Thoughts
So Lovely
Think, Pats! Think!!

Recent Posts

Detective story
Philippine TV's finest hour
Look at the stars, look how they shine for you
Gnarls and Charles
Walang tulugan
Iskul bukol
Kamikazee - A.I.D.S.

The story so far

September 2004
October 2004
November 2004
December 2004
January 2005
February 2005
March 2005
April 2005
May 2005
June 2005
July 2005
August 2005
September 2005
October 2005
November 2005
December 2005
January 2006
February 2006
March 2006
April 2006
May 2006
June 2006
July 2006
August 2006
September 2006
October 2006
November 2006
December 2006
January 2007
February 2007
March 2007
April 2007
May 2007
June 2007
July 2007
August 2007
September 2007
October 2007
November 2007
December 2007
January 2008
February 2008
March 2008
April 2008
May 2008
June 2008
July 2008
August 2008
September 2008
October 2008
November 2008
December 2008
January 2009
February 2009
March 2009
April 2009
May 2009
June 2009
July 2009
August 2009
September 2009
This is a Flickr badge showing public photos from jtordecilla. Make your own badge here.

Instant Pancit Canton
The Prose Portal

A Dose Of Cynicism
Adventures in TV Land
Delusions of Grandeur
first draft
Freedom Sessions
Karmic Backstab
Perpetual Paranoia
Project Manila
Sky of Words
Small Furry Alien
walanjo ka daril!

100 tears away
55 Words (and more)
Blogging from the UAE
Car Driver
Chaos Theory
Ederic @ Cyberspace
Howie Severino's Sidetrip
The Life of an Earthbound Angel
Manuel L. Quezon III
Mimi and Karl Wedding Photography
The New Online Confessions
No White Flag
Out of Bed
Pinay by the Bay
Rebel Pixel Productions
the silpur life
the sky sweetheart
Some Kind of Wonderful
Tapuy Moments
thinking about tomorrow
The Year of the Dog Woman
Weapon of Choice

Four-point Play
The Histrionics of a Balding Drama King
i came, i saw, i blogged
intelektwal interkors
The Jason Journals
Mental Foreplay
Orange Pocket
Paperbag Writer
Renaissance Girl
Seasonal Plume
Bill Simmons
Dave Barry
Get Firefox!
Guardian Books
I, Cringley
Inside Hoops
Joel on Software
Lawrence Lessig
Mark Cuban
Pop Matters
Richard M. Stallman
Roger Ebert
Slam! Links
The Onion
The Onion AV Club
Wil Wheaton