Should your book club read The Lonely War by Nazila Fathi? The answer is absolutely yes! This wonderful memoir was the 2015-16 season’s nonfiction selection for Literary Masters book groups and salons, and almost everyone loved it. I say ‘almost’ because some people only ‘liked it a lot’. Some avid nonfiction readers said it was the best nonfiction book they had read in ages. Everyone agreed that it is worth reading and also important reading, considering what’s going on in the world today.
So, what can your book club discuss?
Warp-speed plot summary: Nazila Fathi was born in Tehran in 1970 and was all of nine years old when the revolution occurred and ushered in a whole new world for the Iranian people. Although many families fled the country, Nazila’s stayed, and she grew into adulthood in the new Islamic state. Fluent in English, Nazila was eventually hired to write for the New York Times until she and her family (her husband and two children) were forced to flee the country in 2009. In this memoir, Nazila takes the reader through her journey as well as the journey of the country of Iran and its people. As the years progress, we witness the growing pains of each as they grapple with new identities.
You’ll want to talk about how/whether this book has affected your view of Iran and the Iranian people. Literary Masters members are well educated and very engaged in world affairs, but still, almost everyone said they learned quite a bit about the revolution and the people involved–and about what the Iranian people wanted. You’ll want to discuss the Iranians’ desire for democracy–and what has happened to it since 1979. You’ll want to think about how US and British historical actions (think Moussadeq) affected the Iranian’s attitude toward the West and helped contribute to bringing about the revolution. You’ll want to connect all of this to today’s world, of course–a long conversation in itself!
Related to the above, you’ll want to discuss what you think Iran’s main problem is. And you’ll definitely want to discuss what it is that you admire about Iran.
You’ll want to discuss the class system in Iran and how the regime used it to further their aims. Was is a mutually beneficial relationship? Who came out ahead and who came out behind as a result of all the tumult? Ask yourselves: How responsible is the class system for the revolution? Also ask yourselves: Does anything like this exist in America?
You’ll want to talk about the various ideologies vying for power in Iran. Talk about how those who are in power get and remain there. Also, talk about the ways ordinary citizens survive or thrive under the various power structures. Also, talk about university students and technology–and the power that resides there!
You’ll want to talk about Iran in relation to its neighbors. Talk about how you think Iranians feel about themselves in comparison to other countries in the region. And how they feel about their political leaders, both historical and current.
You’ll want to talk about national security vs. individual freedoms: how do you feel about this debate with regard to our country after reading this book? How do we balance the two? If one side deserves more weight than the other, how do we keep it in check so we don’t topple over?
You’ll want to discuss Ms. Fathi’s parents and how they dealt with all the changes they were going through. If there was one criticism of the book from Literary Masters members, it was that they wanted to know more of the personal experiences of the family. (Sequel, Ms. Fathi?)
You’ll want to talk about the experience of women in Iran. Try to look at is AS a woman in Iran. And of course, look at it AS a western woman (or whatever you may be). This was quite the discussion in all Literary Masters groups! You will definitely want to discuss the veil!
You’ll want to talk about oil and its effect upon the people of Iran.
You’ll want to talk about Ms. Fathi. Do you think she offers a balanced view or is she biased in her telling of Iran’s recent history? The subtitle is “One Woman’s Account of the Struggle for Modern Iran.” Is she acknowledging bias on her part? Does her memoir connect you to the Iranian people or to Islam or to Iranian culture or to anything/anyone else in a new way?
You’ll want to talk about the relationship between the author and her maid. How do you feel about the choices Ms. Fathi makes? How do you feel about the choices the maid makes?
Well, this should get you started! Let me know how your book club enjoys discussing this wonderful memoir!