On Mondays I’ve chosen to highlight a book or a story told in another medium that I really, really want everyone in the world to read. Today I’m returning to a book I’ve referenced in several other posts.
As I was thinking over the books I’ve read this year, my husband wondered which I thought was the best. It took me only a few seconds to decide: “Reading Lolita In Tehran,” by Azar Nafisi, I answered.
In her memoir, which focuses on her life as a literature professor during and after the Iranian revolution of 1979, Nafisi writes of the meaning she found in literature, particularly literature written in English, and provides an illuminating perspective on why totalitarian governments such as Iran’s, and ideologues everywhere, typically focus on controlling and suppressing artistic expression:
“One of the most wonderful things about ‘Pride and Prejudice’ is the variety of voices it embodies. There are so many different forms of dialogue: between several people, between two people, internal dialogue and dialogue through letters. All tensions are created and resolved through dialogue. Austen’s ability to create such multivocality, such diverse voices and intonations in relation and in confrontation within a cohesive structure, is one of the best examples of the democratic aspect of the novel. In Austen’s novels, there are spaces for oppositions that do not need to eliminate each other in order to exist. There is also space—not just space but a necessity—for self-reflection and self-criticism….All we needed was to read and appreciate the cacophony of voices to understand its democratic imperative. This was where Austen’s danger lay.
“It is not accidental that the most unsympathetic characters in Austen’s novels are those who are incapable of genuine dialogue with others. They rant. They lecture. They scold. This incapacity for true dialogue implies an incapacity for tolerance, self-reflection and empathy. Later, in Nabokov, this incapacity takes on monstrous forms in characters such as Humbert Humbert in Lolita and Kinbote in Pale Fire.”
It’s not often that I find a book transformative, but Nafisi’s provided me with a new dimension of appreciation for story and literature.
What’s the best book you’ve read in 2010?