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Jasmine and Stars: Reading More Than Lolita in Tehran

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In a direct, frank, and intimate exploration of Iranian literature and society, scholar, teacher, and poet Fatemeh Keshavarz challenges popular perceptions of Iran as a society bereft of vitality and joy. Her fresh perspective on present-day Iran provides a rare insight into this rich culture alive with artistic expression but virtually unknown to most Americans. Keshavarz In a direct, frank, and intimate exploration of Iranian literature and society, scholar, teacher, and poet Fatemeh Keshavarz challenges popular perceptions of Iran as a society bereft of vitality and joy. Her fresh perspective on present-day Iran provides a rare insight into this rich culture alive with artistic expression but virtually unknown to most Americans. Keshavarz introduces readers to two modern Iranian women writers whose strong and articulate voices belie the stereotypical perception of Iranian women as voiceless victims in a country of villains. She follows with a lively critique of the recent best-seller Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books, which epitomizes what Keshavarz calls the "New Orientalist narrative," a view marred by stereotype and prejudice more often tied to current geopolitical conflicts than to an understanding of Iran. Blending in firsthand glimpses of her own life--from childhood memories in 1960s Shiraz to her present life as a professor in America--Keshavarz paints a portrait of Iran depicting both cultural depth and intellectual complexity. With a scholar's expertise and a poet's hand, she helps amplify the powerful voices of contemporary Iranians and leads readers toward a deeper understanding of the country's past and present. In a direct, frank, and intimate exploration of Iranian literature and society, scholar, teacher, and poet Fatemeh Keshavarz challenges popular perceptions of Iran as a society bereft of vitality and joy. Her fresh perspective on present day Iran provides a rare insight into this rich culture alive with artistic expression but virtually unknown to most Americans. She warns against the rise of what she calls the "New Orientalist narrative," which thrives on stereotype and prejudice and is often tied to current geopolitical conflict rather than an understanding of Iran. Keshavarz offers a lively critique of the best-seller Reading Lolita in Tehran, which she says epitomizes this New Orientalist attitude. Blending in firsthand glimpses of her own life, Keshavarz paints a portrait of Iran depicting both cultural depth and intellectual complexity.


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In a direct, frank, and intimate exploration of Iranian literature and society, scholar, teacher, and poet Fatemeh Keshavarz challenges popular perceptions of Iran as a society bereft of vitality and joy. Her fresh perspective on present-day Iran provides a rare insight into this rich culture alive with artistic expression but virtually unknown to most Americans. Keshavarz In a direct, frank, and intimate exploration of Iranian literature and society, scholar, teacher, and poet Fatemeh Keshavarz challenges popular perceptions of Iran as a society bereft of vitality and joy. Her fresh perspective on present-day Iran provides a rare insight into this rich culture alive with artistic expression but virtually unknown to most Americans. Keshavarz introduces readers to two modern Iranian women writers whose strong and articulate voices belie the stereotypical perception of Iranian women as voiceless victims in a country of villains. She follows with a lively critique of the recent best-seller Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books, which epitomizes what Keshavarz calls the "New Orientalist narrative," a view marred by stereotype and prejudice more often tied to current geopolitical conflicts than to an understanding of Iran. Blending in firsthand glimpses of her own life--from childhood memories in 1960s Shiraz to her present life as a professor in America--Keshavarz paints a portrait of Iran depicting both cultural depth and intellectual complexity. With a scholar's expertise and a poet's hand, she helps amplify the powerful voices of contemporary Iranians and leads readers toward a deeper understanding of the country's past and present. In a direct, frank, and intimate exploration of Iranian literature and society, scholar, teacher, and poet Fatemeh Keshavarz challenges popular perceptions of Iran as a society bereft of vitality and joy. Her fresh perspective on present day Iran provides a rare insight into this rich culture alive with artistic expression but virtually unknown to most Americans. She warns against the rise of what she calls the "New Orientalist narrative," which thrives on stereotype and prejudice and is often tied to current geopolitical conflict rather than an understanding of Iran. Keshavarz offers a lively critique of the best-seller Reading Lolita in Tehran, which she says epitomizes this New Orientalist attitude. Blending in firsthand glimpses of her own life, Keshavarz paints a portrait of Iran depicting both cultural depth and intellectual complexity.

30 review for Jasmine and Stars: Reading More Than Lolita in Tehran

  1. 5 out of 5

    Grady McCallie

    I'm glad to have read this. I've only read free samples of Reading Lolita in Tehran (RLT), which Jasmine and Stars criticizes. But, it will probably be years before I get around to it, and so I'll capture my reactions to this book while they're fresh: * Jasmine and Stars argues that RLT demonizes Iran and Islam; oversimplifies the complex individuals who make up modern Iran; ignores the country's proud Persian heritage and vibrant modern literary culture; and presents Western literature as a salv I'm glad to have read this. I've only read free samples of Reading Lolita in Tehran (RLT), which Jasmine and Stars criticizes. But, it will probably be years before I get around to it, and so I'll capture my reactions to this book while they're fresh: * Jasmine and Stars argues that RLT demonizes Iran and Islam; oversimplifies the complex individuals who make up modern Iran; ignores the country's proud Persian heritage and vibrant modern literary culture; and presents Western literature as a salvation for confused and benighted young Iranians. I'm sure that's not what Azar Nafisi, RLT's author, understood herself to be doing at all. I suspect RLT is better understood as the work of an author who has experienced painful oppression and is writing about how literature has helped her and her students understand their experiences and take greater control of their internal lives. * Keshavarz's book includes some moving and very personal anecdotes; one of her overt purposes is to offer herself as an alternative window, for an American audience, of what it can mean to be Iranian. She grew up with loving, moderate male relatives, deep exposure to Persian poetry, and no apparent difficulty reconciling (Islamic) faith and modernity. That's great as far as it goes, but doesn't invalidate Nafisi's experience. * Perhaps more problematically, all of Keshavarz' stories reflect well on herself, which I take as a bit of a red-flag when an author is using techniques of memoir to persuade a reader. * Keshavarz doesn't address a couple of topics that I wished she had: the distinctions that set Persian culture and faith apart from pan-Islamic culture and religion; and the ways the 1979 Revolution has changed or obliterated aspects of modern Iranian culture and cultural institutions. These might illumine a difference in frame between RLT and Jasmine and Stars. My hunch is that in RLT, Nafisi pours out her scorn on the Revolution in part because of the damage she has seen it do to the Persian cultural heritage and current artists. But Keshavarz appears to read RLT as an attack - or, at least, a dismissal - of not just the Revolution, but of everything Iranian, and I'm wondering how clearly Keshavarz sees the distinction. * If one discounts Keshavarz' critique as failing to engage RLT on its own terms (and again, I haven't read RLT and so can't tell for certain), Jasmine and Stars still has several points to offer: a picture of Keshavarz' childhood; an introduction to a modern poet (Forough Farrokhzad) and a modern novelist (Shahrnush Parsipar) that Keshavarz reveres; and a reminder of the importance of love as a force that transcends conflict and is very much at home in Persian culture.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Zanna

    I was kind of gratified on reading the introduction of this book that I had spotted some of the issues with Reading Lolita in Tehran myself, despite being a white ‘western’ person accustomed to relying on native/insider voices when thinking about other cultures. Keshavarz sets out to provide something of an antidote to what she identifies as the New Orientalist narrative espoused by Reading Lolita..., The Kite Runner (which I felt no temptation to read after seeing the film) and other recent(ish I was kind of gratified on reading the introduction of this book that I had spotted some of the issues with Reading Lolita in Tehran myself, despite being a white ‘western’ person accustomed to relying on native/insider voices when thinking about other cultures. Keshavarz sets out to provide something of an antidote to what she identifies as the New Orientalist narrative espoused by Reading Lolita..., The Kite Runner (which I felt no temptation to read after seeing the film) and other recent(ish) works. She provides a detailed critique of Reading Lolita, but this is actually given in the penultimate chapter. She prioritises material that she feels Azar Nafisi left out of her memoir – positive aspects of life in Iran. She introduces her aims by telling about how her family would sleep on their roof terrace on summer nights in Shiraz, under the bright starry sky, and how her grandmother would leave a jasmine flower by the nose of each sleeper early in the morning. Occasionally, swarms of grasshoppers made sleeping outdoors uncomfortable for Fatemeh as well as causing problems for local farmers. If I only told you about the grasshoppers, she says, you would never have imagined the jasmine and the stars. So since Nafisi has given us grasshoppers, she sets out to offer the missing starlight and fragrant blossom, pointing out the problems of the New Orientalist narrative on the way. New Orientalism is the old Orientalism except, Keshavarz says, it often has a native/seminative/insider voice, as is the case with Reading Lolita. This makes it more credible, especially to white people, who are rightly told to learn by listening to native voices and accepting what we hear. The native voice element attempts to neutralise Said's by now well known critique. New Orientalism “explains almost all undesirable incidents in the Middle East with reference to Muslim men’s submission to God and Muslim women’s submission to men” and “does not hide its preference for a western political and cultural takeover” also, it assigns valuable aspects of Muslim culture to a past golden age, sadly lost, and presents the locals as uncomplicated, incapable of innovation, stubborn, hateful, sexually repressed or perverse, and so on. One of Reading Lolita’s assertions is that Iranian culture does not recognise or value literary merit. Even I could see that this is absurd and directly counter to the truth. My image of Iran is of a culture where virtually everyone, even teenage boys, recite poetry to each other for recreation. Keshavarz confirms that Iranians don’t just value literature ‘we live it’; for example when feeling low, she would visit the tomb of Hafez. She introduces us to two modern Iranian women writers – Forough Farrokhzad and Shahrnush Parsipur – in detail. She also refers to other Iranian writers, especially poets, both classical and contemporary, but it’s the work of these women she explores in depth. In the face of this it’s impossible to maintain a fiction that contemporary Iranian literature does not exist or that its only value or validity comes from imitating the west. She mentions that when her high school physics teacher announced, with deep distress, that Forough Farrokhzad had died, the whole class was distraught. Everyone knew her. Another topic is ‘my uncle the painter’, literally. Fatemeh shares some thoughts about her lovely uncle and father and other folks in her life who are nothing like the stereotypes presented by the New Orientalism. It’s telling that such a simple strategy can be effective – the totalising vision presented by Reading Lolita and its ilk makes invisible the realitiies that Fatemeh is able to reconjure by simply sharing a few anecdotes. In addition though, she offers profound insights both about the functioning of New Orientalism (for example, how the extremist stance is boosted by its dominant image abroad), its mode of literary criticism, about Islam and Muslims. She draws on discussions with family members, poetry lovers and her own knowledge. Increasingly I think the most useful form of academic work draws on personal sources, analysing moments that resonated in the author’s own life. The loving activism Fatemeh Keshavarz has done in creating this book is a beautiful, lifesaving thing. It’s completely accessible, and since it makes use of extended poetic metaphor to string its illuminating anecdotes and sharp ideas together, it’s also a sensual delight.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    I found most of her criticism of Nafisi's Reading Lolita in Tehran didn't line up at all to what I saw from the book. She seemed to read it as an attack on the Iranian people, but Nafisi loved the Iranian people. What she hated was the political institution and the human rights violations it implemented after the revolution. The book was a mourning for what she knew Iran could be, and all the injustices being committed against the Iranian people by the oppressive regime. I also didn't walk away I found most of her criticism of Nafisi's Reading Lolita in Tehran didn't line up at all to what I saw from the book. She seemed to read it as an attack on the Iranian people, but Nafisi loved the Iranian people. What she hated was the political institution and the human rights violations it implemented after the revolution. The book was a mourning for what she knew Iran could be, and all the injustices being committed against the Iranian people by the oppressive regime. I also didn't walk away thinking the west needed to "save" Iran, or that foreign powers should get involved. Iranians are the only ones who can change Iran outside of destruction and war - and the situation has been slowly improving. It left me hoping that Iran will continue to open up and that their women will get more and more equality. Nafisi's RLT read as a deeply personal and sincere memoir of her life, one that of course showed her biases, but it was not meant to be impartial. What kind of sincere memoir is impartial? It was meant to explore her thoughts and feelings and show what it is like to try to reconcile your beliefs in a place where everything seems to have turned against them. And I thought how much she cared and bonded with her students was beautiful. Keshavarz uses examples of Nafisi's "discrimination" against the Iranian people by pointing out how she used the word "mob" to describe Iranians at a crowded concert, and how she didn't use that language to take about Westerners. The thing is, she NEVER talks about westerners - even the chapters that take place in the USA, it is mostly confined to the Iranian community at her university. OF COURSE both the negative and positive words will pertain to the people who are actually in the book - and there are many very positively portrayed characters. I walked away from RLT with an interest in learning more Iranian culture and heritage, a lot of reflection on the value of literature, and reflecting on the discussions that were had with her students in their class - how they reflect on the complexities of life. This book (Jasmine & Stars) reads like an academic essay, I couldn't get sucked in. Even when Keshavarz describes her own memories of Iran, it is written in the clear goal of proving her thesis, not in honest reflection. The thesis-evidence feel to the book make the stories feel dry and insincere, or at least not as heartfelt. I was disappointed. I wanted something that would captivate me and make me both think and feel, and motivate me to read more books on Iran - like RLT did by leading me here.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Carolinemawer

    It was great to hear some good stuff about Iran. The Jasmine flowers of the title are very lovely, and I was happy to be reminded of the stars in Iran. They are especially gorgeous from the deserts around Kerman. But... I felt this book was uneven - and more than a little confused about whatever it was doing. Is it a dissertation she did on RLT that has some of her family memoirs mixed in? If so, I felt that the literary analysis was much blander than it might have been. I felt like she was a teac It was great to hear some good stuff about Iran. The Jasmine flowers of the title are very lovely, and I was happy to be reminded of the stars in Iran. They are especially gorgeous from the deserts around Kerman. But... I felt this book was uneven - and more than a little confused about whatever it was doing. Is it a dissertation she did on RLT that has some of her family memoirs mixed in? If so, I felt that the literary analysis was much blander than it might have been. I felt like she was a teacher repeating her point to a class of dullards. As to her (privileged) family: I felt the female members were somewhat glossed over. Or is the book actually about New Orientalism? If so, why such a focus only on RLT? The big deal about Orientalism (of all sorts) is surely that it is so pervasive. There are lots of other books out there to demolish. Why didn't she say more about this? Some comparisons (including some positives) would have improved the literary analysis too. Or perhaps the book is supposed to give some idea of what Iran is "really like"? If so, why so upper class? I wished the "illiterate" man who knew all the poems had been gifted more of a voice. What did he actually think of the poems? How were his opinions different to hers? She silenced him more effectively than his lack of reading skills had deafened him. And although she spoke against the idea of Islam only being negative, she didnt flesh this out at all. It's surely a challenge catering for an audience of variable knowledge and varied opinions. So maybe I should be kinder. Overall, though, I think it was a wasted opportunity.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Holly

    Sounds interesting! I want to read it since I just read Reading Lolita in Tehran. However, I don't think anything in this book will negate Nafisi's experiences or the truth that she speaks.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Trish

    Author Keshavarz is absolutely spot-on with her review and criticisms of Reading Lolita in Tehran (RLT). RLT came out with a firm point of view, suggesting that women in Iran were not allowed to develop mature thinking unmolested. This sparked a debate within the literary community in Iran which Keshavarz engages, opening for readers a look into other hearts and minds within the wider literary community in Iran. But the book has a scholarly and instructive feel, and one is put in mind of grading Author Keshavarz is absolutely spot-on with her review and criticisms of Reading Lolita in Tehran (RLT). RLT came out with a firm point of view, suggesting that women in Iran were not allowed to develop mature thinking unmolested. This sparked a debate within the literary community in Iran which Keshavarz engages, opening for readers a look into other hearts and minds within the wider literary community in Iran. But the book has a scholarly and instructive feel, and one is put in mind of grading a bright student's master's thesis. She would have gotten a A- I think. An A for making the effort to refute the sloppy thinking in RLT and a minus for not making me want to read it.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Beverly Atkinson

    Although the scholarly premise intrigued me, I found the writing tedious and the content non-illuminating. Prof. Keshavarz's premise is that "Reading Lolita in Tehran," "The Kite Runner," and a few other novels popular among 20th U.S. readers misrepresent modern Iranian culture and its people. I can accept that as probable, but found that her approach to supporting it rather tedious to read. What support she gave seemed (to me) from a privileged class perspective; many of her examples are from h Although the scholarly premise intrigued me, I found the writing tedious and the content non-illuminating. Prof. Keshavarz's premise is that "Reading Lolita in Tehran," "The Kite Runner," and a few other novels popular among 20th U.S. readers misrepresent modern Iranian culture and its people. I can accept that as probable, but found that her approach to supporting it rather tedious to read. What support she gave seemed (to me) from a privileged class perspective; many of her examples are from her own family environment, her parents and grandparents. Still, I don't question her argument, partly because of having read other books and having learned from an Iranian friend.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Marieke

    I'm hoping I can pull a review together...but I have to return the book today. :/

  9. 4 out of 5

    Didier Vanoverbeke

    I stumbled upon this text rather unexpectedly, but the premise intrigued me enough to push it straight to the top of my reading list. After spending some time with this book, I cannot help but feel slightly let down by it. Other reviewers have already mentioned some of the potential issues here: a rather clumsy prologue sets us up for a scattershot approach to critiquing New Orientalism through memoir and literary criticism. While the prose improves significantly after the frankly bumbling introd I stumbled upon this text rather unexpectedly, but the premise intrigued me enough to push it straight to the top of my reading list. After spending some time with this book, I cannot help but feel slightly let down by it. Other reviewers have already mentioned some of the potential issues here: a rather clumsy prologue sets us up for a scattershot approach to critiquing New Orientalism through memoir and literary criticism. While the prose improves significantly after the frankly bumbling introduction, and though the memories of various family members provide some beautiful and interesting portraits, they end up feeling rather limited, dare I say nostalgically rosy. And that, in fact, permeates the description of Iran as a whole. Without a doubt, Keshavarz set out to provide a counternarrative to Nafisi's Iran, which is perfectly fine and, indeed, necessary. However, setting up a white fram next to a black one does not create a full picture. The most glaring example, for me, is the chapter on Parsipur's 'Women without men'. Keshavarz does an admirable job describing the novel's many characters and symbolic power, trumpeting it as a feminist tour-de-force of Iranian fiction. She does not, however, waste any words on the effect this had on Parsipur's life and livelihood, the persecution she had to endure, and the reason for her eventual exile. Indeed, the fact that this book was banned in Iran gets a most fleeting mention somewhere between two plot points. AS such, thsi book can at times feel intellectually dishonest, guilty of the same corruption as the very book it is critiquing. That being said, I think Jasmine and Stars has its heart int he right place, and besides its almost 40-page beatdown of Reading Lolita in Tehran, it features some wonderful discussions of Persian literature and Islamic tradition and culture that are well worth your time despite the rose-colored glasses. Indeed, it would've been nice to see Keshavarz flesh out these themes more; it seems like she is perpetually in a rush to move us to the next topic, making this book feel like a review of Reading Lolita in Tehran with a bunch of digressions put in to pad the book. That cannot have been the intent. At the very least, in my case, Keshavarz has achieved her objective, as I have found more candles to illuminate the elephant, and for that I am appreciative.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Yoonmee

    Thank you to Fatemeh Keshavarz for writing this book! She did a wonderful job not only analyzing and refuting many of the claims laid in Reading Lolita in Tehran, but also introducing the reader to many inspiration, talented, and, sadly unmentioned in the previous book, Iranian figures and people worthy of note. She is on point when she says New Orientalist narratives, including but not limited to Reading Lolita in Tehran, only serve to reinforce in western readers' minds what they already "know Thank you to Fatemeh Keshavarz for writing this book! She did a wonderful job not only analyzing and refuting many of the claims laid in Reading Lolita in Tehran, but also introducing the reader to many inspiration, talented, and, sadly unmentioned in the previous book, Iranian figures and people worthy of note. She is on point when she says New Orientalist narratives, including but not limited to Reading Lolita in Tehran, only serve to reinforce in western readers' minds what they already "know" about Iran, the middle eat, and Muslims when in fact these books are often "political commentary with a very personal bent" (21). These New Orientalist books (and movies) often have a native or semi-native insider tone to them and "replicate the totalizing -- and silencing -- tendencies of the old Orientalists by vuritue of erasing, through unnuanced narration, the complexity and richness in the local culture" (3). Please, if you have read Reading Lolita in Tehran or any of these other New Orientalist narratives, such as the wildly popular books by Khaled Husseini, please read this book as an accompaniment to them. I beseech you to do so. If your entire knowledge of the middle east, of Muslims, of Iran, etc. comes from what you read about in the newspapers (or online) and from these books, if you think you "know" what it's all about, please read this book. And don't just read this book, please read others about these same subjects because, as Keshavarz says, we need to see the elephant as a whole, we need more candles and more light.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Nura Yusof

    One wonders if this book would have garnered much interest if it wasn't such an unabashed critique of Nafisi's more popular Reading Lolita in Tehran. In a way, I do thank Azar Nafisi for writing RLT because if she didn't, Keshavarz would not have had such tantalizing fodder that inspired her to write her book. I get what Ms. Keshavarz was trying to say. That there is danger in the way Iran and Iranians are being depicted by Nafisi in her book. But even in the reading of RLT, I knew that these men One wonders if this book would have garnered much interest if it wasn't such an unabashed critique of Nafisi's more popular Reading Lolita in Tehran. In a way, I do thank Azar Nafisi for writing RLT because if she didn't, Keshavarz would not have had such tantalizing fodder that inspired her to write her book. I get what Ms. Keshavarz was trying to say. That there is danger in the way Iran and Iranians are being depicted by Nafisi in her book. But even in the reading of RLT, I knew that these men and women were not reflections of the majority. Even I as someone not from Iran, can tell the difference. So will it be utterly catastrophic that so many RLT readers will form such woefully wrong impressions about Iran and Iranians? Does not the author trust that maybe some of the readers may not be so myopic? I'm not saying that this book wasn't necessary. Jasmine and Stars is a fine counterbalance to RLT. But in reading the book, I felt as if I'm being chided for wrongfully liking the book RLT and that I had formed ill-conceived notions as to what and who Iran and Iranians really are. Oh, and by the way, I thought that quote about "standing on shoulders of giants" on page 67, belonged to Isaac Newton. Not Darwin.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Louisewab

    This was an interesting book but I think it would have benefited from extensive editing. It was written by an Iranian woman who is a poet and professor at Washington University. She was offended by the portrayal of Iran in "Reading Lolita in Tehran" and some other books about Iran, because they reflect a Western prejudice which sees Iranian men as evil, women as submissive, and the modern culture lacking any contribution to the arts. She describes her childhood in Iran lovingly, the kind Iran me This was an interesting book but I think it would have benefited from extensive editing. It was written by an Iranian woman who is a poet and professor at Washington University. She was offended by the portrayal of Iran in "Reading Lolita in Tehran" and some other books about Iran, because they reflect a Western prejudice which sees Iranian men as evil, women as submissive, and the modern culture lacking any contribution to the arts. She describes her childhood in Iran lovingly, the kind Iran men she has known in her life, and gives extensive examples of modern Iranian women poets. She also has an entire chapter devoted to a detailed description of the prejudice reflected in "Reading Lolita". I skimmed this chapter. I had loved "Reading Lolita" so I was caught short by this author's perspective. I am glad to have had my mind broadened by this book, but while each chapter was fairly well organized, I thought the chapters didn't flow one from the other very well.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Sheila

    A quick touch of Irani cultural history and what is currently happening there with books and culture. I enjoyed getting a different perspective on what is happening in Irani culture and literature. This was a positive look at what has happened centuries ago as well as the present. I liked being introduced to writers who lived centuries ago and those who write today. I enjoyed the look at Fatemeh Keshavarz's family and the vignettes she shared of her uncles. She brought light to the topic instead A quick touch of Irani cultural history and what is currently happening there with books and culture. I enjoyed getting a different perspective on what is happening in Irani culture and literature. This was a positive look at what has happened centuries ago as well as the present. I liked being introduced to writers who lived centuries ago and those who write today. I enjoyed the look at Fatemeh Keshavarz's family and the vignettes she shared of her uncles. She brought light to the topic instead of the negative which we are usually given. Well written. It made me think. I would like to read some of the ancient authors and today's Irani authors.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Asmaa

    The book accomplishes two objectives. One, gives an alternative picture of Iranian culture since the 1979 revolution; two, is a memoir of her family life during her early years in Shiraz. The author teaches medieval Persian literature in the U.S., so that subject informs this memoir, especially her childhood's learning of classical stories and poems in reading with her father Baba. Several chapters refute the "New Orientalist narrative" packaged for western consumption. Keshavarz's voice definit The book accomplishes two objectives. One, gives an alternative picture of Iranian culture since the 1979 revolution; two, is a memoir of her family life during her early years in Shiraz. The author teaches medieval Persian literature in the U.S., so that subject informs this memoir, especially her childhood's learning of classical stories and poems in reading with her father Baba. Several chapters refute the "New Orientalist narrative" packaged for western consumption. Keshavarz's voice definitely needs to be heard and her memories of fragrant jasmine and of starry nights to be savored.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Leisl

    I am about done reading this book, and it is great! Yes, there is a quite a bit of literary criticism, but that is precisely why I like it. It is quite critcal about statements and assertions made in "Reading Lolita in Tehran", and this is necessary as there were some things said in RLT that were quite incorrect in terms of "most Iranians". I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to know more beyond the rather negative tone of RLT.

  16. 5 out of 5

    maryam

    The book is written as a critical response to Azar Nafisi's Reading Lolita in Tehran. I agree with the arguments Keshavarz tries to make, however, the book needs serious editing in terms of language and style. Not all the points she makes are clearly explained. And there are some irrelevant vague ideas that should have been discussed in detail.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Caroline

    An interesting and also puzzling book. I have NOT read 'Reading Lolita in Tehran' so I cannot really assess Keshavarz's criticisms of it, or know whether it really says what she reads there or whether she's arguing with a series of strawmen. RLT, as she calls it, is not as central to her book as I expected. This is more like a group of essays inspired by her different disagreements with RLT - about her favorite Iranian poets and writers, about members of her family and about aspects of Iran's his An interesting and also puzzling book. I have NOT read 'Reading Lolita in Tehran' so I cannot really assess Keshavarz's criticisms of it, or know whether it really says what she reads there or whether she's arguing with a series of strawmen. RLT, as she calls it, is not as central to her book as I expected. This is more like a group of essays inspired by her different disagreements with RLT - about her favorite Iranian poets and writers, about members of her family and about aspects of Iran's history and culture, all of which disprove what she takes to be the assertions of RLT. As a small introduction to some of Iran's literary heritage it was very interesting. I don't know whether the oppressive aspects of Iranian society, which we always hear about, are less prevalent than westerners are led by our media to believe, or whether she's saying that in spite of the repression of the government and its minions Iranian people maintain their liberty of mind and a thriving culture of writing and film. I'm also not informed enough to know whether for every filmmaker or author she cites, there are others who are not permitted to write and publish? I don't know. The novel she spends a lot of time talking about is "now banned in Iran" according to the Goodreads page for it; she does not say this, implying that such a voice is welcome to speak in Iran. Has it been banned since this book was written? I don't know that either... The most important part of the book, for me, is her positing of a "new Orientialism" in western writing about the Muslim world - books written by denizens of that world, but clearly catering to us because they set the west up to be so much better than the 'east.' Besides RLT, she cites "The Bookseller of Kabul" and "The Kite Runner" as examples of this literature that obscures or denigrates Muslim culture and history in an effort to cater to western readers. This is something that we should all be wary of if we want to understand the world outside our borders, and it is the main point of this book. This is where my puzzlement came in. Azar Nafisi is Iranian. The author of Kite Runner is Afghan. Do these people really hate their cultures enough to present them in such negative and skewed ways? I presume that they have been through struggles that make them angry, but I can assess neither what they write nor how it relates to their own experiences, not having read the books (and now not planning to). So I'm left with puzzlement... I did think briefly of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, though, while Keshavarz quotes over and over from Nafisi. There's one who is happy to demonize Islam and deify the west, in order to sell well here and be a pet Muslim of a right wing think tank... (Small typo: the first time Henry James is mentioned in conjunction with his concerns for the US entering a world war, it says world war II, which is obviously wrong as he died in I think 1916; later, it's correct, so this is just a typo.) So. Worth reading.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Jen

    Read by the author, the structure of this book is entirely different than any I've come across. Keshavarz wanted to defend her Iranian and Persian culture from misrepresentations, so she did so from many angles. She brings in her personal experiences of growing up in Iran, and she reflects on her studies as a literature professor. This means that she presents us with bits of history, poetry, short stories,visual arts, philosophy, and social observations. One thing that often comes up when someon Read by the author, the structure of this book is entirely different than any I've come across. Keshavarz wanted to defend her Iranian and Persian culture from misrepresentations, so she did so from many angles. She brings in her personal experiences of growing up in Iran, and she reflects on her studies as a literature professor. This means that she presents us with bits of history, poetry, short stories,visual arts, philosophy, and social observations. One thing that often comes up when someone is defending her culture is a sensitivity to how damned sensitive people are. Authors often have palpable restraint in protesting negative portraits of their culture, knowing that readers are quick to call someone bitter, or to bring out that silly complaint of "reverse racism." Keshavarz doesn't hold back how hurt and angry she feels when books like "Reading Lolita in Tehran" come out. She quite pointedly tears apart its Western Savior viewpoint, and more delicately points out that the author uses certain narrative styles and tropes that make the book's authenticity highly suspect. In the audio version, we can hear her contempt in her own voice for the misplaced fear of an entire religion based on the horrors we hear about, vs. the ordinary people who aren't villainous enough to get in the news. For me, it felt like she was respecting her audience to truly listen to WHY she feels angry and maligned. Besides all this, it made me incredibly sad to hear her talk about how much poetry had shaped her upbringing, and how she defended literature in general. It reminded me of how much we've lost by not valuing our arts studies, globally speaking. It is so frequent to hear people dismiss liberal arts as useless, that even as an English teacher, I've had to adapt a great deal in how much time I can spend on literature studies. If I can cover three poems in one year, it's a dip into extravagance. If we fully read two novels, I have to really rush and prioritize, because the drumbeat of nonfiction and technical reading cannot be ignored. All I can really do in response is continue to value good reading in my own time and hope that there are enough fellow fans to keep that art alive.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Fred Dameron

    I have always disagreed with Nasifi's interpretation of life in Tehran post Revolution. I disagreed because the people and images she showed did not fit with the people and images I had seen in multiple deployments to the Mideast pre 911. Now I know that my personnel images were more correct than I thought they were. Another disagreement with Nasifi was her subject matter. If I was to choose a Nabokov novel it would not be Lolita. The Luzien Defense is better by a mile. Lolita is really a book t I have always disagreed with Nasifi's interpretation of life in Tehran post Revolution. I disagreed because the people and images she showed did not fit with the people and images I had seen in multiple deployments to the Mideast pre 911. Now I know that my personnel images were more correct than I thought they were. Another disagreement with Nasifi was her subject matter. If I was to choose a Nabokov novel it would not be Lolita. The Luzien Defense is better by a mile. Lolita is really a book that will sell by titillation of American senses and therefor make a pile of money. But I digress. Jasmine and Stars shows a truer picture of people in Iran and by extension the Mideast. We have poets, bureaucrat, teachers, and the whole panoply of types of people that make up any society. I also discovered some new writers and poets from Persian literature that might be worth exploring. To fully understand our enemies we have to know them well. The best way to know them is to read and digest there literature. By digesting there literature one finds out why they believe the way they do and one can also find that he has been sold a bill of goods that fits a political agenda, but is not truthful or accurate. Rather an agenda that is convenient and uneducated. One of the main problems with our country today, and for many years, we like convenient and simple explanations about people, races, science, economics, etc. The problem is that simple is not necessarily correct and convenient may be a broad brush that shoves the majority in with the minority. Just a thought on our current situation. If you want a better understanding of how people in Iran actually think, this is a must read.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Adrianna Scibor

    I decided I needed another view of the narrative so after I read "Reading Lolita in Tehran" by Azar Nafisi I decided to read this book. This is really an academic paper, a critique/memoir, if you will but it is the best damn academic paper I have ever read in my life. The name the author uses "New Orientalist" brings about a different image to me which made reading this book confusing but I think everyone should read this after reading RLT because having only one side told/read is not good at al I decided I needed another view of the narrative so after I read "Reading Lolita in Tehran" by Azar Nafisi I decided to read this book. This is really an academic paper, a critique/memoir, if you will but it is the best damn academic paper I have ever read in my life. The name the author uses "New Orientalist" brings about a different image to me which made reading this book confusing but I think everyone should read this after reading RLT because having only one side told/read is not good at all. We should make an effort to hear all points of view. This book brought up a lot of questions and concerns about RLT that I did not have while reading RLT. I was super sucked into RLT and now I see I need to take what Nafisi writes with a grain of salt. The factual errors the author found in RLT and rebuked on page 138 stood out to me the most. Keshavarz is right, RLT tells a narrative/ adopts atone regarding Iran that does not leave anything positive for the reader to read (138-139). There cannot all be bad, there must be good too and that is exactly what Keshavarz proves. I liked how the author challenged the stories/events in RLT and the way she wrote what she did. I enjoyed the author's stories about jasmine and stars and particularly the one at the end of the book regarding the author's father and reading and reciting poetry together.

  21. 4 out of 5

    H.L.

    Beautifully written. One doesn't have to have read Reading Lolita in Tehran beforehand but it certainly helps. What's more, though, Keshawarz's lyrical, gentle, and powerful writing stands on its own, as does the force of her memories and the complex, riveting emotions behind them. A great collection of anecdotes and thoughts about the real, everyday lives of people in Iran, beyond caricatures.

  22. 5 out of 5

    l.

    Everyone who read Reading Lolita in Tehran/has an interest in Iranian lit should read this book.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Stephen

    Fatemeh Keshavarz's Jasmine and Stars: Reading More than Lolita in Tehran rebukes Azar Nefisi and other writers for contributing to a 'new Orientalism' that looks at Iran only as a place inferior to the west. The author opens Jasmine and Stars with a reminiscence of her summers spent in Shiraz. Growing up, Keshavarz's family spent the nights outside, bringing out wooden cots so they could fall asleep to the view of the glittering stars above, and wake up to the smell of jasmine flowers that her Fatemeh Keshavarz's Jasmine and Stars: Reading More than Lolita in Tehran rebukes Azar Nefisi and other writers for contributing to a 'new Orientalism' that looks at Iran only as a place inferior to the west. The author opens Jasmine and Stars with a reminiscence of her summers spent in Shiraz. Growing up, Keshavarz's family spent the nights outside, bringing out wooden cots so they could fall asleep to the view of the glittering stars above, and wake up to the smell of jasmine flowers that her grandmother used during her morning prayers. As exquisite as these summers could be, there was a moment of gloom: the annual migration of grasshoppers. Their migrating mass blocked the starlight and threatened the fields, and some lollygaggers would fall from the skies and litter the yard. Most of the literature westerners read about Iran or the middle east -- Reading Lolita, Tehran Honeymoon, The Kite Runner -- focus on the transient grasshoppers, with nary a mention made of the beauty around them. In response, Keshavarz simultaneously provides tales of jasmine and stars -- recollections from her youth, mixed in with reflections on Persian literature -- and directly critiques the substance of Reading Lolita in Tehran. Her greatest problem with RLT is the depiction of literature as something foreign, as though Nefisi's literature circle created the only opportunity for her students to ever encounter thoughtful literature. Keshavarz holds that there is no culture on Earth more passionate about its literature, or literature in general, than the Persian people. As illustration, she discusses many works, only one of which (Rumi's poetry) has any name recognition in the west. She also points to the enormous popularity of particular authors and poets, most of whom have produced literature the authorities would not endorse, but do not oppress. The Persia of her youth, and the Persia she visits regularly today, is one that engages with literature and arts constantly -- filling public theaters. Similarly, Keshavarz contends that the depiction of Iranians in literature like RLT is simplistic: the women are naive, and the men all knuckle-dragging tyrants. As a counter, she recalls many stories about extraordinary men and women she knew in Iran, and continues to visit - stern military officers who spent their nights painting, and of an illiterate peasant farmer who so loved a particular poet that he committed her every verse to memory. Jasmine and Stars is a fascinating little mix of literary reflection, criticism, and memoir that provides readers with a welcome view of Iran beyond its political structure.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Elisa

    Tämän löysin luettavakseni elektronisessa muodossa Nelli-portaalin kautta. 188 sivua ei tuntunut liian isolta palalta lukea ruudulta, eikä se kappale kerrallaan raskasta ollutkaan, vaikka mieluummin olisin lukenut paperilta. Olen aikanani lukenut Nabokovin Lolitan mutta en Azar Nafisin kirjaa Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir of Books (suom. Lolita Teheranissa), johon jo otsikossa viitataan. Tästä kirjasta saanee luonnollisesti enemmän irti, jos tuntee kritiikin kohteen. Keshavarzin huomiot vai Tämän löysin luettavakseni elektronisessa muodossa Nelli-portaalin kautta. 188 sivua ei tuntunut liian isolta palalta lukea ruudulta, eikä se kappale kerrallaan raskasta ollutkaan, vaikka mieluummin olisin lukenut paperilta. Olen aikanani lukenut Nabokovin Lolitan mutta en Azar Nafisin kirjaa Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir of Books (suom. Lolita Teheranissa), johon jo otsikossa viitataan. Tästä kirjasta saanee luonnollisesti enemmän irti, jos tuntee kritiikin kohteen. Keshavarzin huomiot vaikuttavat kuitenkin asiallisilta ja ne ovat hyvin perusteltuja, ja samalla myös omaelämäkerrallisiin elementteihin pohjaavia, mikä on tyypillistä jälkikoloniaaliselle kirjallisuudelle ja sen tutkimukselle. Hän kritisoi Nafisin kirjaa ja muita vastaavia teoksia ("New Orientalist narratives") ensinnäkin liioittelusta ja stereotypioiden vahvistamisesta, ja toiseksi länsimaisten klassikoiden merkityksen korostamisesta paikallisen, eli tässä iranilaisen, kulttuurin tuotosten kustannuksella. Kirjoittaja tuo esiin islamilaisia runoilijoita, nykykirjailijoita, tavallisia ihmisiä ja mystikkoja, sekä heidän ajatuksiaan (valistunut länsimaalainen "ajattelee, siis on olemassa", islamilaismystikko "rakastaa, siis on olemassa"). Hän muistelee omaa lapsuuttaan ja nuoruuttaan Iranissa, sekä nostaa esiin kauniita arkisia yksityiskohtia, jotka usein jäävät negatiivisten uutisten varjoon. Teoksessa on ajoittain oppikirjamainen ja akateeminen sävy, mutta mikäli aihe kiinnostaa, suosittelisin tutustumaan tähän.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Skip

    Jasmine and Stars. A wonderful book opening the doorway into the depth, the quality and the richness of the Iranian life and culture. It delves into Iran's rich history and life in poetry. Poetry being a deep and important part of Iranian history. It delves into its art, its history, and of course, its religions, all of which are so important as to be intimate mates in the everyday lives of every person in Iran. This is a thinking culture surrounded by beauty and the wonder of life and of living Jasmine and Stars. A wonderful book opening the doorway into the depth, the quality and the richness of the Iranian life and culture. It delves into Iran's rich history and life in poetry. Poetry being a deep and important part of Iranian history. It delves into its art, its history, and of course, its religions, all of which are so important as to be intimate mates in the everyday lives of every person in Iran. This is a thinking culture surrounded by beauty and the wonder of life and of living. It is a shame the U.S. and Iran re not close friends and allies. The U.S. population would be better for it, if it cared to take the time and the effort to look to and to learn from this country. The two countries were once that way, were at one time friends and allies. Unfortunately, the U.S. betrayed Iran and the Iranian people, which is why we have the situation we have today. This book opened my eyes to much I had not known about the Iranian people. It also gave me more titles of and about Iran to bring into and enrich my life by reading about this country and its people. I hope to meet, in the future, and to make friends with Iranian people currently living in the U.S. Given the opportunity I would feel lucky to be able to visit Iran and share itsfood, philosophy, art and ideas.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Catherine Gillespie

    If you’ve read Reading Lolita in Tehran, I would highly suggest that you read Fatemeh Keshavarz’s thoughtful counterpoint Jasmine and Stars: Reading More Than Lolita in Tehran. Jasmine and Stars is made up of Keshavarz’s own, more positive, memoir of growing up in Iran, her analysis of Reading Lolita in Tehran, and literary analysis of some of the novelists and poets who were writing actively before, during, and after the Iranian Revolution. Keshavarz and Azar Nafisi (the author of Reading Lolita If you’ve read Reading Lolita in Tehran, I would highly suggest that you read Fatemeh Keshavarz’s thoughtful counterpoint Jasmine and Stars: Reading More Than Lolita in Tehran. Jasmine and Stars is made up of Keshavarz’s own, more positive, memoir of growing up in Iran, her analysis of Reading Lolita in Tehran, and literary analysis of some of the novelists and poets who were writing actively before, during, and after the Iranian Revolution. Keshavarz and Azar Nafisi (the author of Reading Lolita) have very different perspectives on Iran, Iranian people, the Revolution, and the role of literature in that country, and they write from quite different religious and political perspectives. {Read the rest of my review here}

  27. 5 out of 5

    Jaymee Goh

    In the wake of Reading Lolita In Tehran, Keshavarz pushes back against the idea that reading Great Literature is taboo in Iran, that the people are starved for good literature that can only be fulfilled by reading Western writers. She blends a beautiful personal narrative with an uncovering of Iranian poets and writers that give non-Iranian readers an insight into what we're missing out, when what we see lauded are books that continue to paint the region as culturally-backward. Keshavarz also co In the wake of Reading Lolita In Tehran, Keshavarz pushes back against the idea that reading Great Literature is taboo in Iran, that the people are starved for good literature that can only be fulfilled by reading Western writers. She blends a beautiful personal narrative with an uncovering of Iranian poets and writers that give non-Iranian readers an insight into what we're missing out, when what we see lauded are books that continue to paint the region as culturally-backward. Keshavarz also coins the term " NewOrientalist" to describe the position of the native insider who lends an air of authenticity to representations of the Other, representations which are no more nuanced and no less condescending of the local than the colonizer's POV.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Mely

    You can tell she's a teacher, although probably her history as a radio show host also contributed to her focus on explaining things. Clearly she has had to explain Orientalism to uncomprehending white undergraduates many times. I liked the details about life in Tehran and the authors writing in Persian, although something about the comments on Women Without Men: A Novel of Modern Iran bothered me, perhaps the way she highlights the artificiality of the plot. Definitely the way she discussed rape You can tell she's a teacher, although probably her history as a radio show host also contributed to her focus on explaining things. Clearly she has had to explain Orientalism to uncomprehending white undergraduates many times. I liked the details about life in Tehran and the authors writing in Persian, although something about the comments on Women Without Men: A Novel of Modern Iran bothered me, perhaps the way she highlights the artificiality of the plot. Definitely the way she discussed rape in the novel; not sure if the novel itself would bother me as much. The New Orientalism, not so different from the old Orientalism.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Andrew

    Almost as much memoir as literary theory, Fatemeh Keshavarz seems like she should be reading the voiceover for some ever-so-hip Al Jazeera documentary. That's not a bad thing, I'd totally watch it. But it's definitely a memoir voice I've heard before. I'm far more interested when she's expounding on the failures of what she deems to be the "New Orientalist Narrative"-- Azar Nafisi, Khaled Hosseini, etc.-- and how detrimental it's been to public opinion of Middle Eastern cultures. She's charming t Almost as much memoir as literary theory, Fatemeh Keshavarz seems like she should be reading the voiceover for some ever-so-hip Al Jazeera documentary. That's not a bad thing, I'd totally watch it. But it's definitely a memoir voice I've heard before. I'm far more interested when she's expounding on the failures of what she deems to be the "New Orientalist Narrative"-- Azar Nafisi, Khaled Hosseini, etc.-- and how detrimental it's been to public opinion of Middle Eastern cultures. She's charming throughout as well as informative, and that's not an easy thing to accomplish. I'd recommend it for anyone with even a passing interest in Middle Eastern affairs, regardless of their "expertise" level.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Cam L

    Dr Keshavarz has done us a great service with her thoughtful, compassionate approach. The book goes a long way in showing us how much we "learn" from things left unsaid, and how much our understanding of a topic can be based on pre-selected evidence that is conducive to our expectations. What I really appreciate is that she not only points out the gaps and distortions in "Reading Lolita"'s presentation of Iranian society, she supplements and fills out the narrative with her stories of "jasmine a Dr Keshavarz has done us a great service with her thoughtful, compassionate approach. The book goes a long way in showing us how much we "learn" from things left unsaid, and how much our understanding of a topic can be based on pre-selected evidence that is conducive to our expectations. What I really appreciate is that she not only points out the gaps and distortions in "Reading Lolita"'s presentation of Iranian society, she supplements and fills out the narrative with her stories of "jasmine and stars," the touching, accessible details of life in Iran that are rarely celebrated in literature.

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