Azar Nafisi challenges our imaginations

Azar Nafisi, author of “Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books” and Things I’ve Been Silent About,” came to Seton Hill University (SHU) on March 5th, as part of the 2008-2009 Lynch Lecture Series sponsored by SHU’s World Affairs Forum (WAF).

By Stephanie Wytovich

Staff Writer

Azar Nafisi, author of “Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books” and Things I’ve Been Silent About,” came to Seton Hill University (SHU) on March 5th, as part of the 2008-2009 Lynch Lecture Series sponsored by SHU’s World Affairs Forum (WAF).

Nafisi has been successful in her endeavors and has been published by The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, and The New Republic. When the podium was presented to her in Cecilian Hall, she spoke out to the students, faculty, and community members about the importance of the imagination, and the necessity of literature with a focus on the liberal arts.

Nafisi spoke about the political and social complications that she dealt with when growing up in Iran. She then discussed the impacts that these confinements had on her life through both her writing and her present experiences as a mother and a professor.

For example, Random House Publishing comments on her most recent publication, “Things I’ve Been Silent About,” by saying, “It is a powerful historical portrait of a family that spans the many periods of change leading up to the Islamic revolution of 1978-79, which turned Azar Nafisi’s beloved Iran into a religious dictatorship.  Writings of her mother’s historic term in Parliament, even while her father, once mayor of Tehran, was in jail, Nafisi explores the “coffee hours” her mother presided over, where at first women came together to gossip, to tell fortunes, and to give silent acknowledgment of things never spoken about, and which then evolved into gatherings where men and women would meet to openly discuss the unfolding revolution.”

Her novels, which have both reached number one on The New York Times bestselling list, are excellent windows to how literature affected her life as a child.  When speaking about the imagination in regards to books, she greatly emphasized how easily fiction and reality work together, because even in fiction, there is some truth. Nafisi then said, “One of the best things about books are the connections that they make, and this is why, when you live in isolation/oppression, it is important to tell others your story and let the silent voices be heard, because even if you’re writing fiction in your diary about the world that is unfolding around you, you are still expressing some form of truth that other people would thus never be aware of.”

 
I personally really liked the strong approach that she took during her lecture, because even though she was recently granted American citizenship, she was not afraid to speak out about the wrongs of our government and society.  For instance, she made a very good point about our views on the pursuit of happiness, and why we think that this is only an American luxury.  “Do women in other counties not want happiness and equality?  Why is it that we think that the oppression and mistreatment of women in places like Iran is merely a cultural trait and therefore deem it ok? The pursuit of happiness is a global concept and should be thought of as thus,” these are ideas and ideals Nafisi expressed during her lecture.

Nafisi is an extraordinary woman who has faced both trials and tribulations that most of us could not dream about. This literature stands as a moving piece of history that not only informs the reader about the life of the oppressed, but also touches the hearts of those who chose to engage in it.  The lecture was both inspiring and moving, and she is a living example of how one person can make a difference and stand up for what they believe in.