Graceful, discerning literary essays.

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NABOKOV AND THE PUZZLE OF EXILE

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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An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

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BECOMING

The former first lady opens up about her early life, her journey to the White House, and the eight history-making years that followed.

It’s not surprising that Obama grew up a rambunctious kid with a stubborn streak and an “I’ll show you” attitude. After all, it takes a special kind of moxie to survive being the first African-American FLOTUS—and not only survive, but thrive. For eight years, we witnessed the adversity the first family had to face, and now we get to read what it was really like growing up in a working-class family on Chicago’s South Side and ending up at the world’s most famous address. As the author amply shows, her can-do attitude was daunted at times by racism, leaving her wondering if she was good enough. Nevertheless, she persisted, graduating from Chicago’s first magnet high school, Princeton, and Harvard Law School, and pursuing careers in law and the nonprofit world. With her characteristic candor and dry wit, she recounts the story of her fateful meeting with her future husband. Once they were officially a couple, her feelings for him turned into a “toppling blast of lust, gratitude, fulfillment, wonder.” But for someone with a “natural resistance to chaos,” being the wife of an ambitious politician was no small feat, and becoming a mother along the way added another layer of complexity. Throw a presidential campaign into the mix, and even the most assured woman could begin to crack under the pressure. Later, adjusting to life in the White House was a formidable challenge for the self-described “control freak”—not to mention the difficulty of sparing their daughters the ugly side of politics and preserving their privacy as much as possible. Through it all, Obama remained determined to serve with grace and help others through initiatives like the White House garden and her campaign to fight childhood obesity. And even though she deems herself “not a political person,” she shares frank thoughts about the 2016 election.

An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6313-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2018

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

NIGHT

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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