Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Reading Lolita in Tehran

Curiosity is insubordination in its purest form.- Vladimir Nabokov

I am frequently reminded how lucky I am to live where I do. This is not to say that any place can be absolutely perfect, but there are so many opportunities and advantages available to me as a female in America that simply wouldn't exist if I were somewhere else. That thought struck me many times while I was going through Reading Lolita in Tehran.

I can't imagine what it would be like to wake up one morning and find that the leadership of my government has determined that I must dress, behave, and think a specific way. Do I agree with everything my government does? No, but I have the opportunity to disagree and vote for those who share my opinion.

That's a fairly idealized version of what we have, but when one stops to consider the alternatives there are many reasons to be happy with the potential inherent in our government. I find myself to be far too independent to accept being told what to do. That's not to imply that I have a terribly rebellious nature, please believe me when I say that I don't.

I am struck by the bravery and encouraged by the rebellious spirit of the women who join this literature professor in her home to continue reading and discussing and learning. I can't imagine an existence without books, so the premise of the memoir draws me in right away. Throughout the book, Azar Nafisi weaves a complex and compelling narrative of what she and her students had to endure both inside and outside her makeshift classroom.

There's a comment Nafisi makes in the opening pages of the text where she describes the women who made up the group and she talks about those who were not there at the end. Her comment is that  the absences had become more real than the presences. That's something I think we can all relate to. Whether it's a place or a person or a particular time in our lives there is something that defines us as much if not more by no longer being there.

There's also something that we internalize about each of our experiences making them uniquely our own, even when they've been shared with other people. I often feel like every choice I've made, every experience I've had combined in an almost impossible way to bring to where I am at this very moment. Even though I didn't enjoy or appreciate all of them at the time, I believe that there was a reason for all of them. I don't have to understand it right away, but I do trust that it's there. I have faith in the notion that everything happens for a reason.

Another aspect of the story that resonates with me is the power these books have to bring these women together. It doesn't always have to be books, but I think we all need those things that provide reasons for creating and sustaining connections. We all need something, especially in difficult times, that gives some kind of affirmation that life can not only continue against all backdrops and all kinds of trials, but that there can be improvement. It's the power to find hope in the darkest of experiences that really characterizes the women in this story for me.

It's the idea that things can get better, that we can get better.

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