Graceful, discerning literary essays.



Essays on how the work of Vladimir Nabokov evoked the feelings of alienation and loss that many experienced in post-revolutionary Iran.

When a “violent ideological totalitarian revolution” proclaimed itself as the Islamic Republic of Iran, Nafisi (The Republic of Imagination: America in Three Books, 2014, etc.) felt “in a perpetual state of exile” from her beloved homeland. As a teacher and critic, she found in Nabokov a clear articulation of those feelings. “For him,” she writes, “exile was not just a physical migration,” but “a feeling of unreality, orphanhood, isolation.” Her close readings, along with critical and biographical studies, inform seven empathetic, incisive essays that together provide a sweeping overview of Nabokov’s major works. Translated by Khonji and revised for this publication in English, the essays predate, and contextualize, Nafisi’s acclaimed memoir, Reading Lolita in Tehran (2003). Nabokov, more than other authors she was reading and teaching, spoke to the “deep traumatic and anguished existence” that pervaded life under a repressive dictatorship. He was acutely sensitive “to bad literature, autocratic regimes, and racial, ethnic, or religious prejudice.” In his two overtly “political novels,” Invitation to a Beheading and Bend Sinister, he represents totalitarianism as a mindset that believes it alone holds “a monopoly on reality” to which all must defer, and in which all artistic creativity and expressions of individuality are considered subversive and dangerous. In confronting this tension between politics and art, Nabokov, rather than depict totalitarianism’s destructive and “horrific reality,” explored how “creative minds” perceive and “resist its onslaught.” Among other works Nafisi examines are the parody Pnin, in which the main character “can be considered a literary descendent of Quixote”; Pale Fire; The Real Life of Sebastian Knight; and Ada (the first of Nabokov’s novels that she read), which influenced her profoundly. The novel, she writes, “did not merely portray quotidian realities—it articulated the reader’s subjective realities.” In a sensitive, cleareyed reading of Lolita, Nafisi sees the novel as more than a portrayal of obsession or parody of love but an inquiry into questions of individuality, personal liberty, and loss.

Graceful, discerning literary essays.

Pub Date: June 25, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-300-15883-0

Page Count: 376

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: April 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.


The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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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

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