Tuesday, January 4, 2011

January 2011: Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi


Discussion Questions:
  1. Did you enjoy the book?  Why or why not?
  2. On her first day teaching at the University of Tehran, Azar Nafisi began class with the questions, "What should fiction accomplish? Why should anyone read at all?"  What do you think? Why was it so important to the women in the group? Is fiction important to you?
  3. If you read any of the books discussed in this memoir, did this Nafisi help you understand them better? Did you agree with their analysis? (The book club in this memoir read Lolita, The Great Gatsby, Daisy Miller, Washington Square, and Pride and Prejudice).
  4. Yassi adores playing with words, particularly with Nabokov's fanciful linguistic creation upsilamba (18). What does the word upsilamba mean to you?
  5. Nafisi teaches that "empathy is the heart of the novel." Do you agree? How has this book affected your understanding of the impact of novels?
  6. Did any of the characters connect with or impact you? Which one(s) and why?
  7. Discuss different attitudes toward the veil in Iran (Mashid—who wore it from choice, but disliked its political enforcement; Nafisi—refusing to teach if she had to wear it; Those who thought there were bigger battles to fight). What do you think? Which side do you take?
  8. In discussing the frame story of A Thousand and One Nights, Nafisi mentions three types of women who fell victim to the king's "unreasonable rule" (19). How relevant are the actions and decisions of these fictional women to the lives of the women in Nafisi's private class?
  9.  Explain what Nafisi means when she calls herself and her beliefs increasingly "irrelevant" in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Compare her way of dealing with her irrelevance to her magician's self-imposed exile. What do people who "lose their place in the world" do to survive, both physically and creatively?
  10. Nafisi writes: "It was not until I had reached home that I realized the true meaning of exile" (145). How do her conceptions of home conflict with those of her husband, Bijan, who is reluctant to leave Tehran? Also, compare Mahshid's feeling that she "owes" something to Tehran and belongs there to Mitra and Nassrin's desires for freedom and escape.  What do you think defines one's sense of home and belonging?
  11. What did you learn about Iran from this book? What, if any of it, surprised you?
  12. What did you learn about yourself from this book? Have you read any books in the past year that have taught you something new about yourself?
  13. The subtitle of this book is "a memoir in books." What does this mean? If you had to write your memoir in books, which ones might be on the list?
* questions adapted from readinggroupguides.com or bestsellers.about.com

Menu: "Coffee and Sweets in Secret"
coffee/tea - hostess
Feel free to bring a sweet treat - there are several mentioned in the book, but don't feel limited to that.  Can you imagine how it must have felt for these ladies to do so many things in secret - to read "forbidden" books, wear "forbidden" clothing and share in "forbidden" relationships?  Let's forget about those New Year's resolutions for an evening and indulge in a few little "forbidden" sweets.  :-)

Meeting Details: 
We're meeting Thursday, January 20th at Thea's house.  Meeting starts at 7:30 with discussion to begin at 8:00.  Thea will send out a reminder (and directions?) one week before the meeting.  Please remember to RSVP so that we know how many ladies to expect.

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