Reading Lolita in Tehran by literature professor Azar Nafisi is the real-life account of the book club Nafisi led for seven bright women in the privacy of her house in the 1990s, during a time of political and religious repression in Iran. In the book, the women are only able to express their true thoughts and read Western and Persian literature in the intimate meetings of these book clubs, in which they often speak about the connection of literature to their lives. The women experience oppression related to their role in Iranian society, and reading works by Austen, Nabokov, and other writers helps them understand and work through their situation.
In the text, Nafisi often refers to a "magician," who is her friend in whom she often confides. The magician is a former professor who is also opposed to the lack of freedom in Iran. The professor "has withdrawn not just from the Islamic Republic but from life as such." As he can no longer teach the books he loves, he resigns from the university and lives an entirely private life to preserve his academic integrity. When meeting and speaking with the magician, Nafisi becomes more of a student than a teacher, and he motivates her to grow bolder. He also encourages her to inspire her students to find an inner life that is not only defined by the regime's oppressive attitude toward women. He tells Nafisi not to blame all her problems and those of the women in her book club on the regime but instead to find their own internal sources of inspiration and happiness.
Nafisi's relationship with the magician nearly causes her trouble when a vice squad raids the cafe where she is meeting with her friend, as the regime deems it illegal for women and men who are not related or married to meet. She steadfastly refuses to part with her friend, as she is doing nothing wrong in meeting with him. In the end, the magician realizes that Nafisi must leave Iran and go to the West to pursue her academic work and live a freer life.