I read Nafisi's best known book, [b:Reading Lolita in Tehran|7603|Reading Lolita in Tehran|Azar Nafisi|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1347469176s/7603.jpg|903067], when it was first published in 2003. While I appreciated the work, it did not leave me with a desire to read anything else by Nafisi. I admired the writing, but I had conceived a dislike for the writer. I cannot easily explain why. However, it seemed to me that there was something unapproachable about Nafisi - an intellectual arrogance, maybe - which made me unable to warm to her.
A few weeks ago I became involved in a discussion about Iran in a GR group which encouraged me to put aside my negative reaction to Nafisi and read this book. Reading it hasn't made me like Nafisi much better. However, it has given an opportunity to analyse why I had that reaction. It has also given me an opportunity to develop some empathy for Nafisi.
There are a number of things that I really like about this book. First, there's its style. Nafisi's prose is beautiful: elegant, lucid, intelligent. She weaves Persian and western literary allusions into her narrative in a way which illuminates and adds to the text. Next, there's the evocation of a past Iran, with every day events and family history woven into the fabric of social and political history. In addition, there‘s Nafisi’s ability to re-create in her writing a child's perspective and reactions to the events going on around her. There's also - I think - a genuine attempt to be honest and to write an account of her life which goes against the cultural imperative to keep family secrets within the family.
What I like less about the book is Nafisi herself: her elusiveness, her brittleness, her remoteness. To me she comes across as rigid, uncompromising and possibly as someone who would deal with opposition – or more particularly with disappointment or the thwarting of her will – in a manner just as unsatisfactory as her mother’s. In addition, Nafisi makes a point of saying that this work is about truth-telling. Although I believe that she has written with honesty, there are still some things which I don't think are well-explained. One of them is Nafisi's decision to marry the first time. Escaping home makes sense, but given that Nafisi's family supported her desire for further education, it's not clear why she didn't choose to study abroad without getting married first.
I read lots of books about Iran. It's a country and a culture that I love and with which I am familiar. Eight years after reading [b:Reading Lolita in Tehran|7603|Reading Lolita in Tehran|Azar Nafisi|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1347469176s/7603.jpg|903067], I'm glad to have finally acquired a little more understanding of Nafisi and the family dynamics which have influenced her. I also understand what caused my initial negative reaction to her writing. With that understanding, I won't be reluctant to read what she writes in the future.
A post-script: I've noticed something odd. Nafisi's GR biography page states that she was born in 1955. However, given that she was in high school at the time her father was imprisoned in 1963 and was married for the first time when she was in her late teens and her father was still in prison three years later, a 1955 birthdate seems somewhat unlikely.