A literary study that derives its emotional power from Nafisi’s personal story and relationship.




The Iranian-American author of Reading Lolita in Tehran (2003) makes a passionate argument for returning to key American novels in order to foster creativity and engagement.

Having taught literature both in post-revolutionary Iran and in America, teacher and author Nafisi (Things I’ve Been Silent About, 2008, etc.) finds in works by Mark Twain, Sinclair Lewis and Carson McCullers important lessons in combating nefarious trends in the West: insular thinking, bias and a utilitarian mindset. Literature, writes the author, is deliciously subversive because it fires the imagination and challenges the status quo. This can be dangerous in an authoritarian, repressive state such as Iran, but it is necessary for an informed citizenry. In America, however, where Nafisi became a citizen in 2008, she finds that the free access to democratic ideals and institutions have bred a complacency toward and even scorn for what cannot be used for political or ideological purposes, namely the liberal arts. In the character of Twain’s Huck Finn, Nafisi’s first and favorite example, she finds a quintessential American character from whom all others derive: a searching soul and a homeless “mongrel” whose “sound heart” gradually beats out his “deformed conscience.” In Babbitt, from Lewis’ 1922 eponymous novel, Nafisi reacquaints us with a smug, self-congratulatory figure of conformity who (still) mirrors our contemporary selves. In the fragile, childlike characters of McCullers’ The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter (1940), Nafisi notes the yearning for personal integrity and shared humanity. The author’s literary exegesis lightly moves through her own experiences as a student, teacher, friend and new citizen. Touching on myriad literary examples, from L. Frank Baum to James Baldwin, her work is both poignant and informative.

A literary study that derives its emotional power from Nafisi’s personal story and relationship.

Pub Date: Oct. 21, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-670-02606-7

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 2, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2014

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Bibliophiles will love this fact-filled, bookish journey.


An engaging, casual history of librarians and libraries and a famous one that burned down.

In her latest, New Yorker staff writer Orlean (Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend, 2011, etc.) seeks to “tell about a place I love that doesn’t belong to me but feels like it is mine.” It’s the story of the Los Angeles Public Library, poet Charles Bukowski’s “wondrous place,” and what happened to it on April 29, 1986: It burned down. The fire raged “for more than seven hours and reached temperatures of 2000 degrees…more than one million books were burned or damaged.” Though nobody was killed, 22 people were injured, and it took more than 3 million gallons of water to put it out. One of the firefighters on the scene said, “We thought we were looking at the bowels of hell….It was surreal.” Besides telling the story of the historic library and its destruction, the author recounts the intense arson investigation and provides an in-depth biography of the troubled young man who was arrested for starting it, actor Harry Peak. Orlean reminds us that library fires have been around since the Library of Alexandria; during World War II, “the Nazis alone destroyed an estimated hundred million books.” She continues, “destroying a culture’s books is sentencing it to something worse than death: It is sentencing it to seem as if it never happened.” The author also examines the library’s important role in the city since 1872 and the construction of the historic Goodhue Building in 1926. Orlean visited the current library and talked to many of the librarians, learning about their jobs and responsibilities, how libraries were a “solace in the Depression,” and the ongoing problems librarians face dealing with the homeless. The author speculates about Peak’s guilt but remains “confounded.” Maybe it was just an accident after all.

Bibliophiles will love this fact-filled, bookish journey.

Pub Date: Oct. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4018-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: July 2, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2018

Did you like this book?