Azar Nafisi

Iranian academic and writer

Azar Nafisi, Ph.D. (Persian: آذر نفیسی) (born December 1, 1955) is an Iranian professor and writer who currently resides in the United States.

The best fiction always forced us to question what we took for granted. It questioned traditions and expectations when they seemed too immutable.


  • On the one hand, the ruling Islamic regime has succeeded in completely repressing Iranian women. Women are forbidden to go out in public unless they are covered by clothing that conceals everything but their hands and faces. At all government institutions, universities, and airports, there are separate entrances for women, where they are searched for lipstick and other weapons of mass destruction. ... Yet, while these measures are meant to render women invisible and powerless, they are paradoxically making women tremendously visible and powerful.
    • The New Republic (22 February 1999)
  • I think some of the greatest writing has been also about writers like Conrad or Nabokov, who have illuminated and given us fresh views about the new countries they adopted...So it is not just that other country that comes to us. This new country is also nourished because language is also a home. And when you change that home and come to a new thing, you'd love to play with it. And that's what I love about English, I can play with it.
    • 2010 interview included in Conversations with Edwidge Danticat edited by Maxine Lavon Montgomery (2017)
  • Every great work of art ... is a celebration, an act of insubordination against the betrayals, horrors and infidelities of life.
  • As I trace the route to his apartment, the twists and turns, and pass once more the old tree opposite his house, I am struck by a sudden thought: memories have ways of becoming independent of the reality they evoke. They can soften us against those we were deeply hurt by or they can make us resent those we once accepted and loved unconditionally.
  • I explained that most great works of the imagination were meant to make you feel like a stranger in your own home. The best fiction always forced us to question what we took for granted. It questioned traditions and expectations when they seemed too immutable. I told my students I wanted them in their readings to consider in what ways these works unsettled them, made them a little uneasy, made them look around and consider the world, like Alice in Wonderland, through different eyes.
  • Azin has bent forward, her long earings playing hide-and-seek in the ringlets of her hair. "We need to be honest with ourselves," she said. I mean, that is the first condition. As women, do we have the same rights as men to enjoy sex? How many of us would say yes, we do have a right, we have an equal right to enjoy sex, and if our husbands don't satisfy us, then we have a right to seek satisfaction elsewhere." p. 52.
  • Do not, under any circumstances belittle a works of fiction by trying to turn it into a carbon copy of real life; what we search for in fiction is not so much reality but the epiphany of truth.
  • A novel is not an allegory ... It is the sensual experience of another world. If you don't enter that world, hold your breath with the characters and become involved in their destiny, you won't be able to empathize, and empathy is at the heart of the novel. This is how you read a novel: you inhale the experience. So start breathing.
  • A good novel is one that shows the complexity of individuals, and creates enough space for all these characters to have a voice; in this way a novel is called democratic — not that it advocates democracy but that by nature it is so.
  • Empathy lies at the heart of Gatsby, like so many other great novels — the biggest sin is to be blind to others' problems and pains. Not seeing them means denying their existence.
  • A great novel heightens your senses and sensitivity to the complexities of life and of individuals, and prevents you from the self-righteousness that sees morality in fixed formulas about good and evil.
  • What we in Iran had in common with Fitzgerald was this dream that became our obsession and took over our reality, this terrible, beautiful dream, impossible in its actualization, for which any amount of violence might be justified or forgiven.
  • Dreams, Mr. Nyazi, are perfect ideals, complete in themselves. How can you impose them on a constantly changing, imperfect, incomplete reality? You would become a Humbert, destroying the object of your dream; or a Gatsby, destroying yourself.
  • Yes, the novel is about concrete living relationships, a man's love for a woman, a woman's betrayal of that love. But it is also about wealth, its great attraction as well as its destructive power, the carelessness that comes with it, and, yes, it is about the American dream, a dream of power and wealth, the beguiling light of Daisy's house and the port of entry to America. It is also about loss, about the perishability of dreams once they are transformed into hard reality. It is the longing, its immateriality, that makes the dream pure.
  • This, I believe, is how the villain in modern fiction is born: a creature without compassion, without empathy.
  • It is because these characters depend to such a high degree on their own sense of integrity that for them, victory has nothing to do with happiness. It has more to do with a settling within oneself, a movement inward that makes them whole. Their reward is not happiness — a word that is central in Austen's novels but is seldom used in James's universe. What James's characters gain is self-respect.
    • On Henry James and his novels
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