Both books were stories spun around books. The first is a memoir in books, drawing parallels of books to the author’s life in Iran. The latter is a story of a boy mirroring the story found in a “cemetery of forgotten books”. As I was finishing the second book, I also chanced upon a financial times article that commented on the vast amount of mediocre books and the digging required for a literary gem. Good reads are indeed hard to find and I have found 2 recently, almost.
Reading “Reading Lolita in Teheran” was not easy. It was both the lack of a narrative and the story itself. The author is an Iranian professor who has since left Iran for America. She used the books she had taught in the universities of Teheran to describe her sentiments towards the revolution and Teheran today. Like an Iranian woman who was forced to hide behind black robes, the author seemed to use books as her cover, telling us her story through a tiny window.
Of her amalgam of emotions, she described them through the soul of stories past. The intrusion of a woman’s rights to her body and her freedom was likened to the loss of innocence of Lolita in Nabokov’s tale. The slow loss of hope during the times of oppression was alluded to through Fitzgerald’s tale of The Great Gatsby, ridden with subtlety and lightness. The strength and bravery of the women who kept true to themselves likened to the strength of James’s characters and Austen’s women.
For its lack of narrative, the author fills us with the events of her time, of the Islamic revolution and the aftermath through flashbacks and a non-linear timeline like memories. It was not important to tell the events in details but she described the passage of freedom lost through the guise of others’ characters, perhaps too afraid to find a real voice or perhaps too disheartened?
On the contrary, The Shadow of the Wind tells a story. The author pulls you in to the mystery he has constructed like the labyrinth of the ‘cemetery of forgotten books’. It started with Daniel, who was first introduced to the cemetery by his father. He was told that he can take away one book to treasure for life. He found the book ‘The Shadow of the Wind’ by Julian Carax and it so started the story.
On hindsight, the story follows a standard structure of climaxes and anti-climaxes that is traditional to a romantic mystery. Yet, what intrigues is the honest writing that understands the beating of the heart and its tempo. The rhythm is crafted to pull the reader in at every turn and draws the reader deeper and deeper into the web of mysteries and love.
Each character is a character of love. The love of a father, between a man and a woman, between two friends and the community, a sordid love, a destructive love, a sweet teenage love, a love destroyed, a love that is clouded with fear, a love in the midst of hate, a love tested and a love answered. Love that is wind and the traces it leaves behind like shadow playing catch up.
I enjoyed reading both books but it is the book on love that I fell in love with. Reading Lolita in Tehran will always haunt me for the tale it told of women in a repressed world. But a book that is meant to be read is a craft that is stringing words into imagery. In this, Mr Zafon has told a seemingly familiar love story that still surprises at each corner and tug at heartstrings with each turn. And he has done so without drowning us with emotions with easy clichés and cheap tactics.
And yet, I have great respect for Mrs Nafisi for not crying out injustice or lashing regrets. It is also true that unless we have experienced the events in Tehran, we can only understand its gravity possibly through borrowed shoes. And I do wish, sincerely, we read more of love than fear, of generosity than hate, because we have too much of it already. Regrettably.