The book is unique in that it is a memoir and a commentary on literary works. It is about the writer's life in Tehran, during the eighties and the nineties and interspersed in her memoir are her comments on western literature and authors such as Nabokov, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Henry James and Jane Austen. I believe the writer was trying to let the reader see a link between fiction and reality.
The first few pages led me to believe that the book was going to be about the members of the secret book discussion group which met at the writer's house for two years. The theme of the writer's English literature classes was the relation between fiction and reality.
The book appears a bit muddled because the writer jumps from one aspect of her life to another and it is not always a smooth transition.
What I loved
I was fascinated by the writer's experiences: teaching western literature during a time when anything western was labeled indecent and decadent, surviving the eight year war between Iraq and Iran and deciding to migrate to United States. The book opened my eyes about the strength and courage of Middle Eastern women and in particular, Iranian women.
Nafisi painted a picture of religion being used as an instrument of power that intruded in the personal lives of Iranians after the departure of the Shah. There was an example of some young ladies being reprimanded for eating apples too seductively. She painted a clear picture of chaos in education at the university level where leftists and Islamists frequently clashed on campus reflecting the drama and chaos in the Iranian society where the leftists, Islamists and Monarchists battled each other.
I would have liked to know more about the lives of the students who met in the book discussion group. Their stories were scattered throughout the book and I had to look back to the first chapter to remind myself who was who.
The writer indicated she was not using real names for the people mentioned in the book and she gave each character a name except for her confidant. She referred to him as her magician yet there was nothing exceptional or magical about this character. I am not sure why he was even mentioned at all.
The writing was repetitive at times. The writer said she became "irrelevant" in the Spring of 1987 when Iran became the Islamic Republic of Iran. This repetition of her being irrelevant was starting to annoy me. I got the point the first time.
I recommend this book to readers. I think anyone interested in the Middle East or in English literature will find this book captivating.
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