Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Current Reading - Reading Lolita in Tehran

Reading Lolita in Tehran generated a buzz about its account of a book club in Tehran that stealthily discusses "decadent" books such as Lolita, The Great Gatsby, and Sense and Sensibility. I was thus curious to read the book and was excited when I saw a copy in our friendly second-hand bookstore along the thrift shops of Evangelista. I bought it for P40.

I have been reading the book for about a week or so now but have not been satisfied so far. The author for one is too self-important, which is often the case in memoirs. On the other hand, I like the perspective it gives about totalitarian regimes like Iran. The book reminds me a lot of George Orwell's 1984 and Margarett Atwood's The Handmaiden's Tale.

It also comes at the right time, for me at least, because whenever I open the newspaper these days, there's always an article about the so-called cultural clashes, between Muslims and the West in particular. Time and Newsweek have been covering and analyzing as well the phenomenon (if it can be called as such) . The book gives me an in-depth perspective into the culture and history of Iranian Muslims, its deep-seated rancor against anything Western (or American to be specific), and the fate of those people living in such a narrow-minded leadership.

The author, Azar Nafisi, made a great point about the mentality of their country's leaders who impose their own brand of Islamist fundamentalism (or even extremism) in their country, hence altering Iranian's lives radically when they grabbed the power from the last Shah. She said that in relation to the fiction that their book club has been regularly discussing, the Iranian leaders have in mind their own fiction of an ideal society that they so cruelly impose on the majority of the society. The Iranians therefore become victims of mullah's fiction of an ideal Muslim society, at the cost of democracy and fundamental rights.

Of course it would be stupid to make generalizations about Islam from this perspective alone (which the book never said it was meant to be anyway). However, broadly speaking, politicians even in our own country have their own fictions about how society should be. Case in point was Imelda's version of truth, love, and beauty (or something of that configuration). The so-called Cultural Revolution in China came at such high costs as well. At the end of the day, the success of these regimes largely depend on the support and power it garners from the elite who perpetuate the fictions of these demented leaders. Afterall, just like in books, all main characters always have a supporting cast.

Photo credit: www.moorishgirl.com

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