Read Dangerously, Azar Nafisi demands of us. And she means it; the subtitle is
“The Subversive power of Literature in Troubled Times”.
What is reading dangerously, and why? Professor Nafisi says we must read the
writers who are witnesses to truth, to history, and the damages of autocracy and totalitarianism. To remember, to imagine, and to connect with others is our duty, our responsibility.
She makes her case in five chapters, framed as letters to her father, who is deceased. These letters serve as memories of her homeland, Iran. She speaks of friends and family, as well as about the sad and violent history of Iran and other countries. She speaks loud and clear of the danger democracy is facing all over the world.
These "writers of witness" are the subjects of the five “letters." Professor Nafisi begins with Plato and the poet Homer, followed by Ray Bradbury, Salman Rushdie, Zora Neale Hurston, Toni Morrison, David Grossman, Elliot Ackerman (who has been a speaker at our Festival), Elias Khoury, Margaret Atwood, James Baldwin, and Ta-Nehisi Coates, all of them very different from each other. Their experiences, however, all serve to connect with readers.
This book is an excellent class on humanity.
My first favorite chapter is about Elliot Ackerman, whose book, Green on Blue is a treasure box of surprise and understanding, an extraordinary book, and Nafisi’s essay on the novel deepened my thinking about “other”. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston, is a book I revisit annually, and in this chapter, Nafisi highlights Janie’s empowering defiance, no matter the challenges she faces. Nafisi writes that this defiance is “just what we need in these trying times”. While I have these favorites, each and every chapter has a lesson for us readers, as individuals, as a tribe, as a country, as people.
Azar Nafisi finishes her book saying “where lies masquerade as truth, we need the clear eyes of imagination to see the reality behind and beyond the show. Which is why, although I try to avoid slogans, I am going to end this book with this one:
“Readers of the World, Unite!"