Are there examples of allusion in Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi?
An allusion is a brief reference to a person, place, or thing of cultural, literary, political, and social significance.
In the novel, Azar Nafisi alludes to Virginia Woolf's seminal work A Room of One's Own by stating that the little group of female students she has managed to bring together are making "a space of our own." In her time, Virginia Woolf was famous for proposing the idea that women needed their own income and space in order to produce good fiction. In Azar's memoir, her allusion to Woolf's work is an assertion that Iranian women need their own space to flourish as vibrant citizens of their society. To the author, the idea of women's freedom has come under siege ever since the Iranian Revolution.
Another example of an allusion is when Yassi, one of Azar's students exclaim "Upsilamba!" when Azar takes a tray of tea into the dining room. The word is actually a fanciful creation by the Russian-American author of Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov. It is found in the second chapter of Nabokov's novel Invitation to a Beheading and references how the enlightened are able to perceive possibilities (in word and deed) beyond the mundane and beyond the norms accepted by the masses. We see this in Azar's memoir:
I said I associate Upsilamba with the impossible joy of a suspended leap. Yassi, who seemed excited for no particular reason, cried out that she always thought it could be a name of a dance- you know, "C'mon, baby, do the Upsilamba with me." Manna suggested that the word upsilamba evoked the image of small silver fish leaping in and out of a moonlit lake. . . For Azin it was a sound, a melody. Mahashid described an image of three girls jumping rope and shouting" Upsilamba" with each leap. For Sanaz, the word was a small African boy's secret magical name. Mitra wasn't sure why the word reminded her of the paradox of a blissful sigh. And for Nassrin it was a magic code that opened the door to a secret cave filled with treasures.
As time progresses, "upsilamba" becomes a coded word among Azar's circle of literature enthusiasts. It is a word that propels their self-determinism within the confines of an oppressive society.
Yet another example of allusion is when Azar argues for the necessity of literature in her native Iran. Her reason? "Poshlust" reminds her there is a close relation between "banality and brutality" and that each day, she increasingly comes ever more to the realization that the horrors perpetuated upon defenseless people are often combined with "the falsely important, the falsely beautiful, the falsely clever, the falsely attractive." Brutality is juxtaposed with falsity to lull the people into a state of apathetic resignation. To Nabokov, "poshlust" is "corny trash, vulgar clichés, Philistinism in all its phases, imitations of imitations, bogus profundities, crude, moronic, and dishonest pseudo-literature" (Paris Review: The Art of Fiction). In one word, "poshlust" describes the juxtaposition of the mundane and the brutal that is at once destabilizing as well as dehumanizing.