Tag Archives: henry james

Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books by Azar Nafisi

Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi Title: Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books
Author: Azar Nafisi
Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks
ISBN: 978-0812979305
Genre: Non-Fiction, Literature
Pages: 400
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

I had wanted to read this book since a very long time. In fact, at one point I even read it till about hundred pages and then just gave it up. Perhaps the time was not right. There are books that need to be read only when you are ready for them and at that time I wasn’t. “Reading Lolita in Tehran” came back to me around a while ago. I had to pick up another copy and start afresh and I did. I now completely see that I was right for it at this time than earlier.

“Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books” is about Azar Nafisi and the classes she taught in her home in Tehran once she quit the university of Tehran. It is not only about this though. It is not about the books they read because they could not read them freely and talk about them. The book goes deeper than that – it is about the Islamic revolution in Iran and how that impacted the lives of women when the Ayatollah came to power.

The author, now living in the US speaks of two decades in Iran as a teacher of American and English literature and how Iran changed drastically after the fall of the Shah. The transformation of Iran is charted through the eyes of the women who come to her house and they learn literature and compare their lives to it, thereby raising pertinent questions. For me this book was an eye-opener of what goes on outside my comfort zone and how in the long run it will impact all of us, whether we see it coming or not.

The insights from the books and parallel to lives are stupendously reached at and just for that I would so strongly recommend this book. The language is simple and yet at times it gets political but that is also because the book is about that and how art imitates life and vice-versa. It is about the relationships she has as a teacher with her students and also as a friend and extending it beyond to knowing who they truly are. All of this happens because of books.

Nafisi’s world is both real and fictitious and with her, so are her students’ lives. You get a glimpse and more about each story and how books shape them at the end of it all. The book is about fiction’s strength to empathize and deal with daily situations, more so when you live in a society that refuses to grant you your rights and there are restrictions at every step.

“Reading Lolita in Tehran” invites all readers to see life differently and to relate them to what you read and how it impacts you on a daily basis. I could not stop reading this one and I regret waiting this long to read it but all said and done it is a book which is not to be missed out on. Better late than never, right?

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Book Review: The Birthplace by Henry James

Title: The Birthplace
Author: Henry James
Publisher: Hesperus Press
ISBN: 978-1-84391-207-1
Genre: Classics, Literary Fiction
Pages: 120
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

If there is one novelist whose entire body of work I am eager to read, it would but definitely have to be Henry James. Henry James as a writer is something else and I feel his works are either loved or hated. You cannot be in-between when it comes to Mr. James’ writing. Either you like it or you do not.

Henry James wrote of an era and time when manners were the key to discriminating in societies and classes. He wrote making fun of the culture and as one would say, provided the much needed, “black comedy”. His writing was unlike any of his contemporaries and maybe that’s why it turned out to be this different and sometimes difficult to read. Not everyone can get used to his style – the sometimes so called big choice of words and then others simply told with the much needed twist can be quite a challenging task for a reader.

In the two short stories in this book, “The Birthplace”, one can clearly see James’ style shining through. The title story is of a family moving in to the birthplace of their nation’s literary hero to become live-in guardians of a house, which reveals itself to be sinister in more than one way, thus diminishing their view and opinion of everything around them.

The story had the sinister feel to it for sure and more than that it had reactions from every character in the story that added to its presence. The second story, “The Private Life”, one of James’ lesser known works centers around the importance of an author in the literary grand scheme of things keeping in mind literary criticism and arts in general.

I think the second story must have been very close to Henry James’ heart given the context and the way it is written. Also it is my favourite now after, “The Spoils of Poynton”, which I think is his best work (but that’s just my opinion). Read Henry James if you haven’t read him before. He has a way with words like no other and an author you will not regret reading.


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Book Review: Emily Hudson by Melissa Jones

Title: Emily Hudson
Author: Melissa Jones
Publisher: Penguin Viking
ISBN: 9780670021802
PP: 360 Pages
Genre: Literary Fiction
Price: $25.95
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Written in a combination of narrative and personal correspondence, Emily Hudson is the tale of a beautiful young woman filled with spirit and creativity, who finds herself the dependent of a strict and oppressive uncle after being tragically orphaned. Brought to live at the family’s beach house in Newport she is permitted limited freedom, yet dreams of traveling abroad and exploring her talent for art. Encouraged by her cousin William, she finds a certain amount of contentment and happiness on the Newport shore, especially after meeting the handsome Captain Lindsay.

Emily’s happiness in Newport is shattered when the threat of consumption presents itself and she feels the responsibility to decline Captain Lindsay’s heartfelt petition of marriage. After caring for and witnessing the death of her mother, father, sisters and brother to the terrible disease, Emily can not bare the thought of putting another through such a bitter and tragic experience or risk their health in so doing.

William, ever her champion, brings her to London to study art and improve her health. Yet William’s controlling and demanding persona begins to become too much for Emily and she finds that they are often at odds. Increasingly ill with the effects of consumption and tired of her cousin’s constant tantrums, Emily runs away to Rome where she can surround herself with art and make a life of her own. Fearing her end is near, Emily contemplates her life, her missed opportunity with the man she loved, and an uncertain future.

Emily is a wonderfully well-drawn character and the story is engaging. Over half of Emily’s story is told via the letters that she writes to her loved ones and this is particularly well done. This is a literary historical romance that is passionate and elegantly written.

Melissa Jones is the sister of Sadie Jones, the author of The Outcast and Small Wars and Emily’s story is inspired by the relationship between the novelist Henry James and his cousin Minny.

A sweeping tale of dreams, lies, love and manipulation, Emily Hudson is a highly captivating novel. Jones’ deeply introspective writing style endears you to Emily in a profound way, carrying you through the story as if with a friend.

The Naive and the Sentimental Novelist by Orhan Pamuk

I have always wondered while reading a novel, as to what goes on behind the scenes – the writer’s mind and his thoughts that provide the shape and form to the novel. How does he/she manage to produce such brilliant works time and time again, without any break or reluctance? How is the novel crafted? Is it art imitating life or vice-versa? And my answers were partially (I think) answered by Pamuk’s new non-fiction collection of Charles Eliot Norton Lectures, titled, “The Naive and the Sentimental Novelist”.

The title draws from the famous essay by Friedrich Schiller, “Uber naive and sentimentalische Dichtung”, conventionally translated as “On Naïve and Sentimental Poetry” – even though the principal connotation of “sentimentalisch” in German is different than “sentimental” in English. Schiller posited two types of poets and, following his example, Pamuk refers to two models of novelist and reader.


What the book really consists of are Pamuk’s meditations on the art of the novel, comprising “all the most important things I know and have learned about the novel.” Pamuk sets as his main goal “to explore the effects that novels have on their readers, how novelists work, and how novels are written.” Pamuk certainly is well qualified to speak on that subject (in addition to having won the Nobel, he teaches comparative literature and writing at Columbia). Further, his perspective is rather unusual, being a self-taught novelist from a Turkish culture with a fairly weak tradition of writing and reading books.

There is no coherent theory of the novel in the book. What it does have is the authors’ perspective on writing and reading and that is what makes the book so different and unique. It does not come with a reading list either. The chapter that stayed with me after I had finished reading the book was about The Center of the Novel and how as readers we read novels to search for that center. How as readers we feel that the novel is here to present us with “that something larger meaning” which may be the other art forms don’t live up to and I agree to a large extent with that. No one can take that away from readers or the novelist.

To sum up the book, I loved reading it. Pamuk presents his case engagingly and tautly, in a pleasant mix of autobiographical titbits, reading and writing experiences, and theory. It does not convince as presenting a ‘theory of the novel’, nor does it claim or attempt to. What it does instead is make the reader see things differently and apply them while reading a novel. It talks about how a reader and writer’s thoughts can and may be one day wil merge and the true center will then emerge.

Last Thought: I could not wait to read a novel after I was done with this book. Thank you, Mr. Pamuk.

Naive and the Sentimental Novelist, The; Pamuk, Orhan; Hamish Hamilton; Penguin India; Rs.450