Monday, July 04, 2005

In Istanbul, I bought Azar Nafisi's Reading Lolita in Tehran, and, so far, I'm really enjoying it.

The post-1979 Iran and the Soviet Union have much in common, and although it seems pointless to try to decide which system is more evil, it's probably safe to say that the amounts of the absurd dumped on the citizens by their brainless rulers has been more or less the same in the two countries. The kind of the absurd that makes you feel so helpless you want to cry; the bullshitting that fills you up with hatred.

Consider this paragraph:

Teaching in the Islamic Republic, like any other vocation, was subservient to politics and subject to arbitrary rules. Always, the joy of teaching was marred by diversions and considerations forced on us by the regime - how well could one teach when the main concern of university officials was not the quality of one's work but the color of one's lips, the subversive potential of a single strand of hair? Could one really concentrate on one's job when what preoccupied the faculty was how to excise the word wine from a Hemingway story, when they decided not to teach Emily Brontë because she appeared to condone adultery?

It reminded me of how I was reading A Moveable Feast back in 1994: I was switching between the English-language original and a Russian translation. The English book, a Penguin paperback, its edges painted red, was my father's treasure, which he had acquired God knows where, most likely not in the Soviet Union, and I must've been the first person actually reading the volume, since no one in my family knows English. I read from it, mainly, but referred to the Russian-language text when I was curious about how one would translate this or that, slang and other such things.

Two passages made me raise my eyebrows, sort of: one mentioned a prostitute swallowing her client's semen, and the other talked about Hemingway taking F. Scott Fitzgerald to the bathroom and ordering him to take off his pants, in order to determine whether Zelda had been right blaming her husband for not being manly enough; Hemingway found Scott Fitzgerald's dick absolutely normal and proclaimed Zelda wrong.

How on earth could the Soviets translate this?!?

Turned out they didn't - not in my 1961 translation anyway: the two passages were completely missing from the text.

I still find it hard to believe - though I find it as hard to imagine the puritanical Soviet authorities allowing the masses to read such adult stuff AND worship the author the way everyone did...

1 comment:

  1. hi, i accessed your blog through david's (workhorse). my book group read 'Reading Lolita in Tehran' a few months ago, and one of the best parts of the book is when she would describe what all of the women were wearing when they took their burkas off.

    i just finished reading another good book, 'The Bookseller of Kabul' that explores the role of women (and men for that matter) in Afghani society, and I recommend it. It didn't get into as much history as I would have liked, but it painted a good picture of women's lives. it's good read

    07.12.05 - 12:56 am