The New York Times bestselling author of Reading Lolita in Tehran returns with a guide to the power of literature in turbulent times, arming readers with a resistance reading list, ranging from James Baldwin to Zora Neale Hurston to Margaret Atwood.
"[A] stunning look at the power of reading. ... Provokes and inspires at every turn." —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"Remarkable. ... Audacious." —The Progressive
"Stunningly beautiful and perceptive." —Los Angeles Review of Books
What is the role of literature in an era when one political party wages continual war on writers and the press? What is the connection between political strife in our daily lives, and the way we meet our enemies on the page in fiction? How can literature, through its free exchange, affect politics?
In this galvanizing guide to literature as resistance, Nafisi seeks to answer these questions. Drawing on her experiences as a woman and voracious reader living in the Islamic Republic of Iran, her life as an immigrant in the United States, and her role as literature professor in both countries, she crafts an argument for why, in a genuine democracy, we must engage with the enemy, and how literature can be a vehicle for doing so.
Structured as a series of letters to her father, who taught her as a child about how literature can rescue us in times of trauma, Nafisi explores the most probing questions of our time through the works of Toni Morrison, Salman Rushdie, James Baldwin, Margaret Atwood, and more.
"We need the truth that fiction offers us," writes Nafisi (Reading Lolita in Tehran) in this stunning look at the power of reading. Written from November 2019 through June 2020 as a series of letters to her late father, Nafisi's reflections grapple with literature's ability to counter oppression—as she writes, "Fiction subverts the absolutist mindset by defending the right of every individual to exercise their independence of mind and of heart." Her close readings come in five sections: the first considers how Plato, Ray Bradbury, and Salman Rushdie all revealed the discomfort involved in seeking truth. Zora Neale Hurston and Toni Morrison, meanwhile, created powerful heroines who reclaimed their own stories, while empathy and complexity suffuse Nafisi's discussion of war and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict via the works of David Grossman, Elliot Ackerman, and Elias Khouri. Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale is invoked in a discussion about the roles that "ordinary, often decent, people play in bringing about a totalitarian state," and James Baldwin and Ta-Nehisi Coates offer lessons for coping with rage at racial injustice. Nafisi's prose is razor-sharp, and her analysis lands on a hopeful note: "I really believe that books might not save us from death, but they help us live." This excellent collection provokes and inspires at every turn.