A New York Times bestseller
The author of the beloved #1 New York Times bestseller Reading Lolita in Tehran returns with the next chapter of her life in books—a passionate and deeply moving hymn to America
Ten years ago, Azar Nafisi electrified readers with her multimillion-copy bestseller Reading Lolita in Tehran, which told the story of how, against the backdrop of morality squads and executions, she taught The Great Gatsby and other classics of English and American literature to her eager students in Iran. In this electrifying follow-up, she argues that fiction is just as threatened—and just as invaluable—in America today.
Blending memoir and polemic with close readings of her favorite novels, she describes the unexpected journey that led her to become an American citizen after first dreaming of America as a young girl in Tehran and coming to know the country through its fiction. She urges us to rediscover the America of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and challenges us to be truer to the words and spirit of the Founding Fathers, who understood that their democratic experiment would never thrive or survive unless they could foster a democratic imagination. Nafisi invites committed readers everywhere to join her as citizens of what she calls the Republic of Imagination, a country with no borders and few restrictions, where the only passport to entry is a free mind and a willingness to dream.
Mixing memoir with literary criticism and social critique, Nafisi (Reading Lolita in Tehran) contends that imaginative literature is essential to good citizenship. Having once advanced this thesis regarding her native Iran, she extends it now to her adopted United States. For Nafisi, America's great works of literature make up a canon of supplementary founding documents, offering a purer articulation of the American dream than pols and pundits. In such books may be found the "Republic of Imagination," in which heroic characters exemplify humanistic ideals. According to Nafisi, Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn epitomizes America's "national myth" that of a vagrant underdog declaring his independence from a corrupt society and decamping with his moral courage to the wilderness. Similarly exemplary are "Huck Finn's Progenies": Sinclair Lewis's Babbitt and John Singer in Carson McCullers's The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter. Explaining how she came to appreciate the civic value of these books, Nafisi suggests that, as a refugee from a repressive regime, she can claim a privileged perspective on American ideals. Her social critique is scarcely original: most readers have heard that the downside of American freedom is American greed, that politicians are demagogues, and that American media is polarized. Through accessible and informative readings, however, Nafisi succeeds in conveying her broader point that Great American Novels can teach us to be good "citizen readers."