Iran Frozen in Time

I started reading “Reading Lolita in Tehran” by Azar Nafisi because now, right now, Iranians are again trying to be free. They rise up, every once in a while to attempt to throw off the oppressive reign of the Mullahs, and then after tremendous brutality they are suppressed. Suppressed, but now cowed, not silent, not accepting. Fiery, fierce beneath their veils, waiting for the right time.

The right time will come. This might be it, and I for one can only hold my breath and pray and dream of what a free Iran would mean, not only for its people – but for Afghanistan and Russia and Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. An end of the wars in Syria and Yemen. The stabilization of Lebanon. A solution (at long last) to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. A change of that magnitude would reverberate around the globe.

But “Reading Lolita” is not about that. “Reading Lolita” was written twenty five years ago, a biography of 18 years as Nafisi tried to figure out how to live in the new ‘Islamic Republic’, failed, and finally fled. That is the real story of dictatorship. The sad story. It isn’t usually the tale of ‘color revolutions’ or great leaps into liberty. More often than not, they are the stories of regimes that get more and more and more sclerotic and decrepit and constipated. Dysfunction and boredom punctuated by tremendous jolts of violence. Migration, creating massive diasporas which bifurcate from their home countries immediately, like a parallel universe, retaining some of the outward semblances of what it once meant to be Iranian (or Venezuelan or Cuban or Armenian) but developing an entirely new set of languages and motivators. A wholly new culture, not of one or of the other but a mixture of both, an amalgam that often times drips with hate of those who have moved on, when they themselves cannot, or of indifference to those who want to pretend they never were. But all, with a stranglehold on those left behind through money and the command of a story, told often incorrectly, but loudly and from a snapshot taken from a point deep in the past. Incidentally, this is one of the reasons that make solving these problems more difficult.

The story itself was well written and full of suffering and sadness, a compelling story; it was, as the title says, a novel in books. It starts with Nabokov, and goes through Fitzgerald and James. About how a secret book club helped people living under the totalitarianism of the morality policy find respite and solace in the written word. About Nafisi and how she tried to make her peace with life in the Islamic Republic, where there were things she could and couldn’t do as a woman, and how at the end this existence became untenable. And why she decided, at long last, to give up and leave.

This was a sad book, for me, mostly because it was written long, long ago and yet the protest scenes are the ones we see today on the news. A generation of protesters, who define themselves by the protests – as well as those who oppress them, defined by their own role in the violence – when civilization instead needs sanitary engineers and physicists. A full, wasted generation.

Would that nobody is writing a “Reading Lolita in Tehran” now, about the protests of 2022, which my little boy will read when he is in middle age as he wonders when, if ever, Iran will find freedom.

About Joel D. Hirst

Joel D. Hirst is a novelist and a playwright. His most recently released work is "Dreams of the Defeated: A Play in Two Acts" about a political prisoner in a dystopian regime. His novels include "I, Charles, From the Camps" about the life of a young man in the African camps and "Lords of Misrule" about the making and unmaking of a jihadist in the Sahara. "The Lieutenant of San Porfirio" and its sequel "The Burning of San Porfirio" are about the rise and fall of socialist Venezuela (with magic).
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