I have just come out of this book's world so am getting my thoughts down now. It's a true story, about an English literature lecturer in Iran during and after the Revolution there, and the girls she teaches, as well as about the conditions there, especially for women, and interwoven with this, a critique of the books and authors they discussed.
Azar Nafisi eventually stopped teaching in Iranian universities, and organised a regular meeting with a group of young women to discuss literature in her home. She gives fictional names to these women and has changed some of the details, however this doesn't dilute the power of what she has to say. She relates the real life issues of the group and the intricacies of novels by Nabokov, James, Austen and others with such passion and intelligence, it made me want to read Henry James for a start and gave me more of an understanding of what happened in Iran.
When the revolution first began there was hope mixed with huge uncertainty, with many different political voices united in making change happen. Then the extremists took over, executions happened and women became 'half the worth of men' and had to endure daily scrutiny to ensure they conformed with new rules about clothes and behaviour. Offenders could be thrown in prison; some were raped and executed. Two of her 'girls' spent time in prison, where executions happened nightly and seemed arbitrary.
The book is not all gloomy - the literature group enjoys themselves in their little 'haven' from reality, and some relaxation of the rules eventually happens so they can have a little freedom, but not much.