I read a lot of light weight books, mysteries, fantasy, family chronicles, but I try to balance that out by reading more substantial books too. Reading Lolita in Tehran was such a book, absolutely stunning. Of course I know about Iran, that it's a theocratic republic run by the Ayatollahs and Mullahs, but those are just words. This book is Azar Nifisi's story of the reality of being a woman and living in this nightmare.
She was a professor at Tehran University when the revolution came and the Shah was ousted, and though she'd been a very left-wing student herself while attending the University of Oklahoma (marching, shouting death to capitalists, taking part in demostrations), she stayed out of the fray in Iran and waited to see what life would be like after the Shah.
Quickly she discovered that "death to the unbeliever", "death to our enemies", "death to the all who defy us" quickly became more than a threat as people disappeared and died for little or no reason.
She'd grown up in a liberal country, under the Shah, where women had equal rights, but this quickly changed. She lost her job because she refused to cover her hair with a scarf, so she stayed at home, but had to cover herself in order to go out on the street and there she'd meed Morality Patrols that searched for women who might have a hair or two showing or be wearing make-up or nail polish. For these offenses they could be hauled off to jail and lashed.
She finally returned to teaching, but at a different University after being assured that she could teach what she wanted and how she wanted. Her classes were now segregated, men on one side, women on the other, and frequently the men would denounce the books she was teaching, saying that all immoral women should be stoned. And the women would just sit there, afraid to speak, if they defended the books they might be reported to the authorities.
Feeling the need to provide a place where female voices could be safely heard she and some of her old students who'd studied literature with her formed a "book club" that met at her house to discuss the books they'd studied: Lolita and other of Nabakov's works, The Great Gatsby, Daisy Miller and other works by Henry James, Flaubert's Madame Bovary and Jane Austen.
How the core of these books relates to these women and their lives was a fascinating story. I hadn't read all the books they discussed, but a bunch of them are on my Amazon Wish list now.
This was a harrowing story and a cautionary tale about what happens when any extreme element takes over a country.