Jasmine and Stars: Reading More than Lolita in Tehran, by Fatemeh Keshavarz. Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press, 2007. x + 165 pages. Index top. 174. $24.95.
Reviewed by Nasrin Rahimieh
Jasmine and Stars is a passionate and poetic supplement to the monolithic and unforgiving image of post-revolutionary Iran that has gained currency through best-selling titles like Azar Nafisi's Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books.
Since its publication in 2003, Nafisi's work has become one of the most widely read books in North America. Some of her critics have speculated that me book's popularity is rooted in its representation of life in die Islamic Republic as relentlessly oppressive, particularly as experienced by women. Writing from the position of a former professor of English literature in Iran, Nafisi zeroes in on repressive measures aimed at limiting American influence in Iranian life and letters. Over against the ever-tightening rein of the Islamic Republic, Nafisi posits a gathering of a group of her female students at her home devoted to reading some of the more canonical works of English literature. This book club of sorts becomes a safe haven where the austerity of life in post-revolutionary and war-torn Iran can be temporarily suspended or at least freely challenged dirough an engagement with the life of the imagination. The Iran of the time, Nafisi argues, is so invested in revolutionary zeal mat it loses sight of the value of literature and the arts.
Fatemeh Keshavarz's Jasmine and the Stars challenges and rebuts Nafisi's depiction of Iran as a country that has turned its back to the life of the mind. Classifying Nafisi's work as New Orientalist, Keshavarz takes issue with its single-minded focus on Iran's cultural values as irrevocably different from those of the West. Like the European Orientalists who became the first purveyors of the image of the Orient as the region exempt from the order of time and progress, the New Orientalists, Keshavarz contends, have fortified barriers between cultures. If the Orientalists of the earlier periods were European and American travelers, the New Orientalists are native informers who, speaking from a position of autiiority and authenticity, dehumanize dieir own compatriots and wall them off from the rest of humanity. …