Tag Archives: nabokov

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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An Interview with Ashwin Sanghi

Ok. So I was a little blown away after reading Chanakya’s Chant. I mean, the plot intrigued me for sure but it was also the writing, which was hands down taut and had so much to say. And that is when I decided that Sanghi’s interview had to be a part of my blog and here it is…Hope you enjoy it. The review will soon follow…

Why historical fiction?

I grew up reading Amar Chitra Katha. In school, my favourite subject was history. Sure, I hated the boredom of memorization but I loved reading about wars, kings, revolutions and spiritual movements. I was transported into a mysterious and magical world of the past. I see India’s present (and our future) deeply rooted in the past. No matter how big a banyan grows, it has to depend on its roots for stability and strength. As economic growth happens, the new emerging generations of Indians will need to fall back upon their history, culture and mythology to keep themselves rooted.

Wasn’t it difficult to run parallels in the book, one historical and the other modern?

Not really. I usually spend around six months researching a subject before I get down to writing the story. By the time that I start
writing, I have before me a road map that plots every twist and turn in the plot. In the present instance, I had two independent plots
before me, one ancient and one modern. I simply needed to analyze the points of commonality and ensure that they meshed at the right places… a little bit like coordinating the arrivals and departures of two trains via the same platform.


A thriller and a semi-literary novel. How did you manage the writing for this one?

I don’t know which one of my books you’ve christened “semi-literary” because I’m not part of that exalted circle! I’m simply a commercial paperback writer who enjoys spinning good old-fashioned yarns. My primary objective is to entertain my audience. If you’re looking for allegory, intricately woven descriptive passages, hidden meanings or award-winning literary prose, I’m not your guy!

Ashwin, the writer…

During the release of Chanakya’s Chant, Dr Shashi Tharoor said that writers like me are writing for Indian audiences almost exclusively. In his view, my breed represents a new generation of Indian writers who don’t really care whether western audiences will appreciate us. Dr. Tharoor called it “the smuggling of Indianness past the immigration inspectors of English literature”. Thus, Ashwin the writer is also a smuggler!

Ashwin, the reader…

My grandfather used to give me a new book every week provided that I wrote a review about the one that I had read the previous week. This tradition started when I was ten and went on until I was twenty-two. I owe my love of reading to him and to my mother who would make reading more palatable by smuggling in a few more interesting paperbacks. Thus, Ashwin the reader was also created via smuggling!

From Jesus to Chanakya, what is the next on the table?

History gets my creative juices flowing, so it would have to be historical fiction… that’s more or less the DNA of my genre. Beyond
that, I can share that the story draws from from an event that happened in the 7th century AD. For the rest, you’ll have to read the
book when it’s complete!

How does it feel to know that Chanakya’s Chant was touted above Salman Rushdie’s books?

It wasn’t really. What Shashi Tharoor said was that Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children opened the door for Indian writers like me who are writing with an Indian sensibility for an Indian audience and that we have taken the process to its logical conclusion.

Why wasn’t there more detailing in the mind of Chanakya in the book?

The one single element that I cannot and will not compromise on is pace. Character development, building the scene, background
information and discussions of protagonist’s motivations… they all take away from pace. I use them sparingly, possibly to the chagrin of some readers, because I would not want my reader to have to consciously think about whether they need to turn the page.

Your top 10 all-time favourite books…

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle; War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy; Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie; Not a Penny More, Not a Penny Less by Jeffrey Archer; Messiah by Ian Rankin; All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren; The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam; Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov; Roots by Alex Hailey; The Almighty by Irving Wallace.

Chanakya’s Chant by Ashwin Sanghi is available at all leading bookstores.