"A novel is not an allegory. It is the sensual experience of another world. If you don't enter that world, hold your breath with the characters and become involved in their destiny, you won't be able to empathize, and empathy is at the heart of the novel. This is how you read literature: you inhale the experience. So start breathing."
In the Islamic Republic of Iran, one brave teacher held a secret class every Thursday morning for two years, instructing a handful of dedicated female students on various Western books which were banned in their country. Among the authors they read were Jane Austen, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Henry James, and Vladimir Nabokov. Terror reigns supreme in Iran as morality squads arrest and beat women for wearing lipstick or walking with men who are not family. The colleges are consistently being interrupted by these squads as they infiltrate classes and harass teachers and students alike. Friends and family disappear and are never seen again. Justice and freedom are nonexistent. Yet despite these horrifying events, Azar Nafisi continued to instruct her students on the joy of reading and the delight that books can bring. In her living room, once a week, they could all dare to unwrap their veils, speak freely, and truly be themselves for the first time.
I read this book for the first time about a month and a half ago, and it touched me in such a profound way that I'm sure I will be thinking about in the days to come. It's a particularly intriguing book when you consider the wave of hatred toward Muslims and people from predominantly Muslim countries that has been darkening the United States, which is not helped by the President's recent executive order regarding a ban on refugees from certain countries. I dare anyone to read this book and not have their heartstrings pulled. It is a wonderful and terrible experience. It really moved me to see how literature could be used as a bridge to connect cultures. And it was also horrifying to read about the conditions these women lived in and the way they barely had any choices available to them, let alone any notion of freedom or independence. I think this book is something that should be read by every American, because it seems to me that it is vastly important to understand and empathize with cultures that are different from our own.
"We work in the dark-we do what we can-we give what we have. Our doubt is our passion, and our passion is our task. The rest is the madness of art." -Henry James