DC Reads: Reading Lolita in Tehran

DC Reads: Reading Lolita in Tehran

An Interactive Reader's Guide

Reading Lolita in Tehran


Reading Lolita in Tehran is broken up into four parts, corresponding to the novels that the book group focuses on in each: "Lolita," "Gatsby," "James" (Daisy Miller and Washington Square), and "Austen" (Pride and Prejudice). Each section also focuses on a slightly different time period in Dr. Nafisi's life. 

"Lolita" marks the beginning of Dr. Nafisi's "underground" literature class after her resignation from The University of Tehran.  Dr. Nafisi introduces her students in this section, although their personalities and experiences are more fully detailed in later sections. 

"Gatsby" shows Dr. Nafisi's teaching life at the beginning of the Iranian Revolution. While the author has high hopes for the revolution, her hope dwindles little by little as the narrative progresses. This section also features a very entertaining (and infuriating) recollection of a mock "trial" for The Great Gatsby held in Dr. Nafisi's class.

"James" marks the beginning of the Iran-Iraq War (which lasted from 1980 to 1988) and shows the growing fear among the residents of Iran, as they are in constant danger of missile attack. This section allows Dr. Nafisi to examine the relationship between fear and resistance, while earlier she need only fear the Revolutionary Guard, now she lives in fear of both Iraqi and Iranian forces.

"Austen" shows the period of Dr. Nafisi's life just before she finally leaves Iran for the United States. This section illustrates the difficulty of her decision to leave, and details her students' private apprehensions about staying in Iran or attempting to leave their country.

Through these distinct time periods, Dr. Nafisi shows the reader not only the evolution of her literature class, but the changing cultural and political dimensions of Iran itself. While her students and friends grow bolder in their intellectual pursuits, the circumstances of their lives grow more complicated, as they juggle family, education and livelihood in the Islamic Republic.

Read the Books from Azar Nafisi's Book Club

The Great GatsbyHenry James Complete StoriesHenry James Washington SquarePride and Prejudice

Reading Group Guides

Learn more about Iranian Culture and Politics with Related Reading


Cover of "The Age of Orphans"Cover of "Censoring an Iranian Love Story"Cover of "The Bathhouse"Cover of "My Uncle Napoleon"Cover of "The Septembers of Shiraz"


Cover of "My Life as a Traitor"Cover of "Iran Awakening"Cover of "The Dressmaker of Khair Khana"Cover of "We Heard the Heavens Then"Cover of "Honeymoon in Tehran"

Graphic Novels

Cover of "Zahra's Paradise"Cover of "The Complete Persepolis"Cover of "Embroideries"

Recent Online Resources

Find More Online Articles and up-to-date Analysis at These Sites

Middle East Report LogoJadaliyya Logoal-Ahram logo
Middle East ReportJadaliyyaal-Ahram Online


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DC Reads: One Book. One City. One Good Read. is an annual literary event sponsored by the DC Public Library that encourages the community to come together through the reading and discussion of a common book. This citywide program is a four-week celebration of the joy of reading, which will include discussions and special events inspired by the themes and issues of the book. The goal of the program is to promote the pleasure of reading, appeal to a wide audience generating in-depth questions and discussions, and engage the community in an array of programs using various artistic means. Find more information on our DC Reads page.