I enjoyed Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi the first time I read it, but I loved it this time because I’ve read or reread several of the books she writes about, and because I’ve been in Bishkek.
While Kyrgyzstan is very, very different from Iran, there are also many similarities. There are even more similarities if you take Central Asia as a whole and compare it with Iran. There is no country in Central Asia that restricts women as much as Iran, but Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan are at least as restrictive in every other way. There are many, many ways to oppress people.
Nafisi also writes often that the people of Iran allowed the repressive regime to come into power. I completely agree, and I understand better now why she write that. There is so much resignation to the idea that nothing can be done to have a better government. But the biggest problem is that a known difficult situation can be dealt with, while anything unknown is downright scary. At least most people in Kyrgyzstan are surviving right now. The revolution in March really didn’t change anything; in fact, it made things worse for many people. Is it really worth trying to change things?
It was fascinating to read about her troubles with the various universities she works at, and some of her difficulties with the students. Again, leaving out the obvious Islamic implications, my husband has experienced so many of the same things in the last few months. Classes cancelled and rescheduled without any apparent logic, students memorizing the lectures and repeating them on the exams with absolutely no analysis, and an administration that seems to have no interest in making sure the students really are learning.
I found the section on Henry James to be much more interesting this time because I’ve read three of his books now. I had just finished rereading Washington Square and Daisy Miller when my husband brought RLiT home from the embassy and I had been trying to remember what Nafisi had written about those books. It is interesting that Daisy was the character that caused the most uproar in Nafisi’s classes.
I’ve also realized how important these books are to me. I’ve always loved reading, and I’ve always known that. But my books one of my few connections to a different time and place while I’m here. I have loved every book I’ve read even more than I liked them in the US. I can see more clearly the great importance books have, and why books are often one of the first things that are restricted by less-than-desirable governments.