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The End of ChildhoodReading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi

The End of Childhood

How do Middle East cultures address the question of when childhood ends and adult life begins? A seminar designed for K-12 educators delves into questions that are relevant to children everywhere.

Teachers As Scholars is a program promoted nation-wide by the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation based in Princeton, New Jersey. The UCLA International Institute is homebase for TAS in Los Angeles. The program represents a new vision of professional development for K-12 educators and a vital collaboration between the university and public schools. TAS seminars are led by university faculty, and the participants are K-12 teachers who have been given release time by their schools to reconnect with the world of ideas and scholarship. The seminars meet in three full-day sessions over the course of a quarter.

In the Fall 2004 TAS seminar, led by Firoozeh Papan-Matin, participants explore the customs and religious practices that signal the advent of adult status in Middle Eastern societies. Using novels and films primarily from Iran and the Iranian diaspora, educators examine and discuss how coming of age has been signified and portrayed in one of the region's most influential countries and cultures, and how this compares and contrasts with the Middle East as whole, and beyond.

Azar Nafisi, a professor at John Hopkins University, offers insights into the process of growing up in Iran in her best-selling memoir Reading Lolita in Tehran. The work covers her life in Iran and abroad, with a focus on the years between the 1979 revolution and 1997 when she and her family left Iran for the United States. The captivating narrative conveys the author's life within the framework of her western education and its juxtaposition with her endeavors as a professor of English literature at different universities in Tehran. Nafisi's theme is the transformational power of literature and its affect on her own life and the lives of her young students who are trying to understand the relationship between ideas and everyday living.

Gina Nahai's fabulous tale Cry of the Peacock is inspired by the history of Jews in Iran. The female protagonist, named Peacock, depicts this history through her own trials and tribulations as a strong and indomitable woman. Her long life unfolds through the centuries in a magical yet oppressive reality that defines her as a woman and a Jew. Against this background, she comes to terms with the loneliness she must endure for being unlike other members of her community and unlike members of the larger society that has branded and condemned her along with the rest.

The turmoil and expectations at childhood's end as expressed in these literary works are complemented by three masterful films to be screened for seminar participants. Bashu, the Little Stranger (directed by Bahram Beizai) is the story of a boy who flees the ravaged south of Iran during its war with Iraq and ends up in the relative safety of the north. Abjad (directed by Abolfazl Jalili) depicts an Iranian teenager's struggle to discover and assert his identity against the backdrop of parental and school authority, the looming Islamic revolution, and his unattainable love for a Jewish girl. Osama (directed by Siddiq Barmak), the winner of several awards at Cannes as well as a Golden Globe, portrays the struggles of a young girl who is disguised as a boy in order to help support her family during the era of the Taliban. The film underscores the challenges of growing up female in Afghanistan -- and elsewhere.

Seminar leader Firoozeh Papan-Matin received her doctorate in Iranian Studies from UCLA in 2004. She currently teaches at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Her recent books on the love poems of Ahmad Shamloo (Iran's most renowned contemporary poet), and a treatise by the thirteenth-century Iranian mystic Ruzbihan Baqli, are being published by Ibex and Brill respectively. In addition to her scholarship, Firoozeh's professional experience includes collaboration with precollegiate teachers and educators.

The seminar meets on three Fridays, October 22, November 5 and December 10, 9:00 AM to 4:00 PM, at UCLA.

Center for Near Eastern Studies