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Azar Nafisi is best known as the author of the national bestseller Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books, which electrified its readers with a compassionate and often harrowing[…]

Iran, Nafisi says, is a very paradoxical place.

Azar Nafisi: Iran was in . . . is a very . . . like many maybe Middle Eastern countries, but more so is a very paradoxical place. Where I was growing up, I grew up in a very modern environment. Tehran was a modern and cosmopolitan city. The love of stories . . . For example my father always, right alongside ...and other Persian storytellers . . . From early childhood for my brother and I, he would buy books or tell the stories from La Fontaine, to Pinocchio, to Tom Sawyer, to . . . By the time I was . . . Before I left for England I had read . . . I don’t know why Balzac used to be a favorite, but I remember closing the door in my room and crying over.... We loved the Russians, most of which were translated and we had read them. I had already fallen in love with Jane Austin. So when I went to England at first, these ideas were not foreign. One of the things that brought about the revolution was the fact that you had a very lively middle class, and you had an educated class who compared itself to Europe. And because of the culture and the institutions, what they wanted was political freedom, and that is what you didn’t have. So that was what bothered us. And my family has always been a family of political rebels. Somehow we don’t fit into any one political party or agenda. And so my father was the youngest mayor of Tehran in early ‘60s. And then because he would not sort of move with the crowd, he was put in jail without a trial for over four years. And once they gave him a trial in which he defended himself, he was exonerated of all charges except . . . First they said all charges except disobedience. Later they even tool that. I thought they should have left that. Insubordination – I loved that idea. So what bothered me in comparison with the countries I had lived in – U.S. and Europe – was lack of political freedoms basically; which of course affected the culture and all the other walks of life.

Recorded on: 2/22/08