When Azar Nafisi’s book Reading Lolita in Tehran came out in 2003, it offered the most potent glimpse yet, for many Westerners, of the vibrant intellectual life that still existed at the heart of modern-day Iran — and the many contradictions and struggles inherent for those seeking to live it. Nafisi has spent her own life balanced between the literary and the political. Fired as an instructor from Tehran University in 1981 for refusing to wear the veil, the English and U.S.-educated Nabokov scholar taught literature both informally and formally in her home country until 1997, when she emigrated to America. Now she teaches on the conjunction between literature and politics at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, D.C. She spoke to Foreign Policy about the tragedy of Iran’s forgotten English majors and the signs the West missed that Tehran was about to boil over.
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