I’m not sure there’s a more important book for Christian women to read than Reading Lolita in Tehran, a memoir written by Azar Nafisi that tells the stories of Muslim women who gathered to form a book club under the threat of imprisonment, chastisement and even death.
The work reads like fiction, heart-pounding and spell-binding. It can’t possibly be true that the twentieth century has been so misaligned, that the reality of life in the Islamic Republic of Iran includes being physically affronted to prove one’s virginity as a requirement for attending classes at a university.
Dr. Nafisi’s struggle with the enforcement of the chador as a condition of employment, even existence, is wrung through the hands and lives of the young women she recruits to study Nabokov, Austen, James, and Fitzgerald in her living room. As the chadors come off behind closed doors, the imprisonment of the students’ imaginations emerges as the shackle and chain that studying “decadent” Western fiction confronts.
There is no mention of Christ in these pages. The closest thing that we might recognize as hope is a quote from Henry James, “I eat my heart out alone…against the paralysis of my own powers to do anything but increasingly and inordinately feel. Feel, feel, I say–feel for all your worth, even if it half kills you because it is the only way to live…we must for dear life make our own counter-realities.”
Chocolate and tea play their part in the women collecting themselves together for leaps into discussion of what might be–if fear, torture, and annihilation didn’t rule the roost. Perhaps in that a Western audience may find some recognition. A room with women gathered around a book table is a common, even binding experience, but what is outside the window of these rooms is very different. Very different indeed.