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Literature / Reading Lolita In Tehran

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A novel written in 2003, by Iranian author Azar Nafisi. According to Wikipedia, the book is a memoir of the experience of the author who returned to Iran during the revolution (1978-1981) and lived and taught in the Islamic Republic of Iran until her departure in 1997. Events are interlaced with the stories of book club members consisting of seven of her female students, who met weekly at Nafisi's house to discuss works of literature including the controversial 'Lolita' and the texts are interpreted through the books they read.


Reading Lolita in Tehran provides examples of:

  • A Mother to Her Girls: Azar with her students. She calls them "her girls" she fusses of them, and takes very special interest in them. It is frequently lampshaded by her friends and family.
  • Aloof Dark-Haired Girl: Nassrin and Mahshid.
  • Alternate Character Interpretation: In-universe examples:
    • Is Daisy Miller a flirt or a catalyst for Winterbourne? Nafisi asks this of her Allameh class. No one can provide a definite answer.
    • In real life, Mrs. Resvan to Professor Nafisi was either an Opportunistic Bastard who uses people or a dying woman who was Vicariously Ambitious and really did want to do good while she could and did look out for the professor.
    • Nassrin sees her boyfriend as a creep because keeps looking at her sister with lust while treating her as a woman to "respect". The professor considers he is confused due to Iran encouraging sexual repression.
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  • Apologises a Lot: Sanaz. It's part of her Establishing Character Moment.
  • Big Ham: Yassi. She jokes all the time.
  • Birds of a Feather: Manna and Nima. Reserved, self-deprecating perfectionist intellectuals with a sharp tongue.
  • Brilliant, but Lazy: Nima, Manna's husband. Lampshaded by Azar a lot.
  • Cool Teacher: Azar.
  • Creepy Uncle: Nassrin's uncle, who crossed the line from creepy to abusive.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Yassi and Nassrin. However, only Nassrin fits the deadpan part.
  • Don't You Dare Pity Me!: Mahshid. She actually utters those very words.
  • Dramatically Missing the Point: Professor Nafisi holds a trial about the Great Gatsby in her class, to contest a student's concerns about morality in the novel. Mr. Nyazi, the prosecutor, claims that the novel is about adultery and uplifting the rich, completely missing that Fitzgerald was mocking the rich and criticizing them for their carelessness. Zarrin, the defense attorney, lampshades this and nearly quotes the trope word-for-word while making her case, and Professor Nafisi has to point out that novels aren't black and white.
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  • Ethical Slut: Azin. She mostly invokes this as a defense from all the Slut-Shaming the more conservative girls put her through.
  • Fallen Princess: Mina, the daughter of the Iranian national poet who has fallen from grace.
  • The Hermit: Azar's magician. He is almost a Hikikomori.
  • Holier Than Thou: Some of the more radical Islamist and Marxist students in the novel. In the group there is a downplayed version of this trope - Mahshid.
  • Honor-Related Abuse: Sanaz's brother mistreats her in order "to restore the family honor" after her arrest.
  • I'm a Man; I Can't Help It: The excuse used by both Nassrin's Creepy Uncle and her Bespectacled Bastard Boyfriend.
  • Innocently Insensitive: Bijan, Nafisi's husband, doesn't seem to understand why she's upset about the veil and about losing her job and sense of purpose. Even so, he does what he can to make their home life stable at least, and to stage private rebellions.
  • Insane Troll Logic: During the Gatsby trial, Mr. Nyazi says that all of America must die with Gatsby because Americans are guilty by association.
  • Irony: Lampshaded by the Professor, when she says that Gatsby's story was a cautionary tale for Iran to not render your dreams in reality.
  • Must Have Caffeine: Azar, who is oddly addicted to coffee flavoured ice cream.
  • My Country, Right or Wrong: Azar's husband. He wants to pull his weight helping the country, regardless of his opinions of the regime.
  • Only the Leads Get a Happy Ending: Discussed. The Professor points out that unlike most people in Iran, she can and will get another academic job outside the country, and Bijan is valuable as an architect. They also have lived in the US and have family there, which makes the immigration process easier. Most of the girls are in the "okay" state by the end, either having built careers abroad or in Iran, where only Nassrin and Manna's fates are unknown. Sanaz ends up marrying and "keeping house," and is finally away from her family and brother.
  • Old Maid: Mahshid is hardly old, but she treated like an old maid by the conservative society surrounding her.
  • Plucky Girl: Yassi. She has some of shades of The Pollyanna too.
  • Posthumous Character: Razieh, the Henry James fanatic who was executed in prison. She is the only one of the girls whose real name is used.
  • Proper Lady: Mahshid. They even nickname her "The Lady".
  • Proud Beauty: Mitra. As quiet and innocent as she seems, she is very aware of the affect she has on men.
  • Rape as Backstory: Nassrin. See Creepy Uncle.
  • Really Gets Around: Azin - three husbands and counting. Poor girl undergoes some serious Slut-Shaming for it.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure:
    • It takes a lot to rattle the Professor, such as having to face the loss of her job and relevance. Teaching is her priority, and that's that.
    • Inverted with student Mr. Bahri, who while disagreeing with Professor Nafisi respects her work and does what he can so as to save her job when she refuses to wear the veil.
    • One interpretation of Mrs. Resvan is that she is this, someone who served a middle ground between progressives like Professor Nafisi and the more conservative authority figures. Bijan and Nafisi's magician tell her that she wants to return to teaching, so she may as well take the opportunity.
  • Shrinking Violet: Mitra. Lampshaded by Nassrin.
  • Trickster Mentor: Azar's Magician. He's constantly pulling her leg.
  • Troubled, but Cute: Nassrin is rare female example.
  • The Un Favourite: Sanaz. Her parents put her little brother first - always.
  • You Can't Go Home Again: The Iran from Nafisi's childhood ceased to exist by the time she returned after the revolution.

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