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Azar Nafisi is best known as the author of the national bestseller Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books, which electrified its readers with a compassionate and often harrowing[…]

Trained as a Nabokov scholar, Azar Nafisi formed a very personal bond to the writer’s works.

Question: Why is Nabokov so important to you?

Azar Nafisi: Well personally when I was very young, and I was . . . I guess this was the most, in a sense, serious love affair because I was . . . I don’t know . . . This was a good time to be in love I guess. And we both were very much into literature. We were attending the same classes and everything. And the first book by Nabokov I read, he gave it to me. It was “Ada”, and he wrote on the flyleaf, “To Azar, my Ada.” I always . . . I still have that book. And so he started . . . And “Ada”, you know, a very difficult book to read. I read it as a fairy tale. For me he became . . . My first introduction to him was the way he becomes very difficult and sometimes really too much to take, you know. But at the same time he created a fairy aura around the characters, and an amazingly visual sort of form of writing, which I very much appreciate. The images just stuck in my mind. So that is how it started. And then when I went back to Iran and I was frantically trying to reconnect – and my reconnections were through books – I started re-reading all my favorite authors. And Nabokov all of a sudden, I identified with him because of the sense of the deep and poignant sense of exile, you know? And the book I wrote about him, each of the chapters – there’s seven chapters – in one way or another they talk about the issue of exile. And not just geographical exile; exile within your own country. Forever strangers, you know? And as a writer you’re anyway a stranger. You have to be in order to write well, you know? So that came to me very strongly. And then I discovered small things in him which I felt sometimes in the west people didn’t, because he had deeply . . . Even if he had not been in Soviet Union, he had experienced it; he had thought about it; he had obsessed over it. So his novels are always a celebration of the individual freedoms. And he is always against the mindsets that impose their images on others. The liberation comes from the individual. The celebration . . . Writing becomes a response to reality’s tyranny, you know? So I just . . . I . . . You know I could express all of this through him, you know, and through his love of writing. He loves . . . Of course Russians do that to you. ___________ used to be my . . . one of my absolute . . . You know I once . . . This bookstore before it closed down, at the beginning of the revolution I would go and buy my . . . I bought ___________. And then I went back and bought every single copy to give it to my friends to force them to read this book; that wide imagination.