I am currently reading this memoir by Azar Nafisi, a New York Times bestseller from several years ago. It is an intriguing mixture of literary critism and memoir, as well as a window into the Islamic Republic of Iran as lived by its many highly educated inhabitants.
The writer is a former English professor who left the University of Tehran due to increasing pressures to “Islamicize” her teaching and herself. Instead, she teaches a literature class out of her home to a group of young women. For this author, literature is something deeply vital and political, something that almost tangibly frees her and her fellow readers from their immediate circumstances. I think all book lovers delight in interior worlds that spring up from their books, worlds that coexist with the “real world” like two sides of a coin. But this book eloquently shows that the “real world” is up for grabs — Chicago, Illinois could be a parallel universe to Tehran, Iran, at this moment in time — and when the tangible world is a repressive, alienating place, characters and sentences and plot structures can gracefully hold the place of “reality” until a more humane existence is restored.
A book can only offer an alternate reality, while incurring lots of tangible costs for the writer — but this book shows that literary worlds are a reality to contend with — as important to Azar Nafisi’s memoir as her own life experiences.