The memoir is about an illegal book group in Tehran in the early 1980s where young women met to discuss western literature, evil, and the new Islamic regime. In a book about literature and evil, one wouldn't usually think of Jane Austen's novels as the climax of the discussion. But I love what Nafisi says:
Austen's theme is cruelty not under extraordinary circumstances but ordinary ones, committed by people like us. Surely that's more frightening...
...Modern fiction brings out the evil in domestic lives, ordinary relations, people like you and me... Evil in Austen, as in most great fiction, lies in the inability to "see" others, hence to empathize with them. What is frightening is that this blindness can exist in the best of us (Eliza Bennet) as well as the worst (Humbert). We are all capable of becoming the blind censor, of imposing our visions and desires on others. Once evil is individualized, becoming part of everyday life, the way of resisting it also becomes individual. How does the soul survive? is the essential question...As I sat in a community group tonight for the first time in a couple years, I thought about this passage and the joy of seeing and being seen by others. It was after all what Christ did for the woman at the well and the rich young ruler and the woman who needed healing but hoped to sneak away unseen after touching him. He saw the disciples fishing and Zacchaeus in the tree and Saul on the road to Damascus and... and... and... he sees me and each and every one of my students and those refugees and every last man and woman swearing allegiance to Isis.
I have been in a particularly fierce battle to mortify the desires of my sinful nature. Sin has flared up so violently in my heart I can hardly sleep at night. I've fled back to John Owen's advice to begin mortification by really understanding the evil and guilt and danger of my sin and then to hold it up to the gospel and realize what it cost Christ. To be seen and loved, despite my sin and silliness and stupidity, should open my eyes to the work God can do in those around me. It should stir me to hope and boldness in life and in prayer for those both near and far. And maybe, just maybe, I'll start to see others with eyes made new by grace.