“I left Iran, but Iran did not leave me.”

reading lolitaBrown Baggers met on July 20 at Central to discuss Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi. Published in 2003, this book chronicles the author’s experience as a secular professional woman living in Iran after the Islamic revolution in Tehran in 1979. She became increasingly marginalized at her job as a university professor and as a woman in Iran. When she finally couldn’t teach anymore she began an in-home class for her a group of her female students which inspired the title. Among other titles, this group read and discussed Nabokov’s classic Lolita.

Readers definitely felt the title was strategic. Lolita is a notably risqué book and Iran a notably conservative country. The suggestion of mixing the two may have piqued more interest than, as one reader observed, a title such as Reading The Great Gatsby in Tehran might have.

Readers enjoyed Nafisi’s compassion for her students, designing this one final class for them even while they could no longer work at or attend the university. That she worked to keep in touch with these women over many years and stay up-to-date on their lives proved her dedication, which readers admired.

The women in Nafisi’s group also engaged in small subversive acts to help them deal with the oppressiveness of the regime. This included leaving wisps of hair outside their veils and wearing gloves which hid forbidden nail polish. Readers felt the girls engaged in these small acts of rebellion because they couldn’t engage in larger regime changing measures.

Largely this book discussed how fiction, especially Western fiction, helped these women focus on possibilities outside the limits of their restrictions and hope for more — even if it was an idealized version of the West which they were reading about.

freedom

A panel from Persepolis 2 by Marjane Satrapi

 

Similar Titles
Persepolis and Persepolis 2 by Marjane Satrapi
Enemy Women by Paulette Jiles
The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu by Joshua Hammer
The People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Mr. Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore by Robin Sloane

More Information
Interview with the author
Video of the author:

List of books referenced in this book
Other titles by Nafisi

Brown Baggers will meet again on Thursday, August 17 at noon to discuss My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult.

“Pretty easy life. Nothing seems to have happened to him.”

Brown Baggers met on May 18 to discuss Old Filth, a novel by Jane Gardam. The novel is named for its main character, and Filth becomes his nickname after he attains great success as a lawyer in Asia (it stands for Failed In London, Try Hong Kong). The novel is told as his 81-year-old self looking back on his life and coming to terms with abandonment and abuse in his childhood.
After his mother dies in childbirth, his detached father sends him to be raised in the local Malay village, where Filth thrives. However, in the family tradition, Filth is torn from this comfortable set up and sent off to a foster family in Wales. This situation scars him for life and his reminisces throughout the books always lead back to what happened to him there.
Being left was Filth’s main story. Throughout the book we learn of his repeated losses of friends, other relatives, and love interests. As a character, Filth is a survivor. Although his methods of surviving led some readers to consider him an appalling man. We discussed whether there was a likable character in this book. As they had all experienced trauma early in their lives they developed personality quirks which made them detached and hard to warm to as readers.
Compounding the never-ending sense of loss in Filth’s life was WWII, which began when he was a young teen. This only added to his losses and deprivations. While his early experiences led to his ability to be a good litigator, it also wracked him with a lifelong sense of guilt of past wrongs and all legal decisions he meted out as judge.
After the loss of his wife, and his only friend, Filth decides to revisit family members and locations from his past to come to a better understanding of what happened and make peace with it.
Mentions:
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
Born a Crime by Trevor Noah
Links:
The Man in the Wooden Hat(#2) and Last Friends(#3) in this trilogy

Audio interview with the author from BBC4

“To be confined, hemmed in, to have nothing to do, was unbearable.”

cvr9780671447540_9780671447540_hrThe Brown Baggers book club met on Thursday, April 20th to discuss Mornings on Horseback by David McCullough. This biography of Theodore Roosevelt encompassed his early years, including his family background and history, through his phase as a cowboy driving cattle in the west. The book described how the president “came to be.” The book only briefly touched on Roosevelt’s political ambitions and foray into politics, since Roosevelt had not really entered politics at this stage in his life.

Mornings on Horseback was rich with detail, which some readers really enjoyed while others thought this caused the book to be a little dry. For example, the author describes how Teddy Roosevelt suffered from asthma as a child and throughout early adulthood. McCullough provided a very in-depth analysis of the potential causes of his asthma and the treatment for it at that time, as well as how the family dealt with the chronic illness and how it affected different members of the family. When and how often Roosevelt had an asthma attack was also noted. Some readers thought this level of detail detracted from the story.

Readers were delighted to gain insight into Roosevelt’s early life. Some found it curious that both Teddy Roosevelt and his older sister had difficulty seeing clearly as children, but it took their parents many years to learn that they both needed glasses. It was also fascinating to read about the family’s vacations, which would last over a year and were quite lavish. Roosevelt’s years at Harvard are also documented. Roosevelt spent a considerable amount of money while at Harvard, about $2,400 on clothes and club dues in two years, “a sum the average American family could have lived on for six years” during that time period.

The author explained how depressed Roosevelt was after the death of his first wife, Alice- this is when Roosevelt spent several years in the Badlands on a cattle ranch. It seemed as if Roosevelt could not cope with the passing of his wife, so he left his sister in charge of his newborn so he could become a cowboy. Some readers were appalled that Roosevelt left his child in the care of his sister, other readers thought his way of dealing with the death of his wife was to leave everything behind and go out west.

Another point that was brought up was that Roosevelt protected and conserved forests, landmarks, and wildlife during his presidency, but killed so many animals himself. He was a hunter and sportsman since he was a child and by his own accounts killed hundreds of birds on hunting trips as well as bears, deer, bison, and tigers.

Some readers mentioned that they would have liked to know more about how the servants lived and more about their roles in the household. Although the Roosevelts had servants and traveled with them, there was little mention of them in this biography.

Overall, most readers enjoyed learning about Roosevelt’s early life and his family history. Mornings on Horseback described Roosevelt as a man who was always doing something, as he hated to be bored. The biography gave an extensive look at Roosevelt’s life before he became president and the events that helped mold who he became.

Reviews of the book:
From The New York Times 
From Kirkus Reviews

Interviews with the author:
Archive of Studs Terkel interview
The Paris Review

Similar Reads:
Island of Vice by Richard Zachs
The Wright Brothers by David McCullough

Next month the Brown Baggers will meet on Thursday, May 18th at 12pm and will be discussing Old Filth by Jane Gardam.