Some of the best poets in history lived in Iran. It is a country that has been around for a long time. Awful: Iran’s novels have not had the success of its poetry. This may be because Persian prose is written in a way that is hard to understand. It often uses surrealism and magical realism to show how playful its poetry is. In Iran, even if they write history books, it looks like they can’t get rid of their love of poetry. Even so, it’s a good thing about the way we live now. Even if the writer is in Canada or the United States, writing about Iran and thinking “in Iranian,” even if he or she is writing from a desk in another country, changes the writer’s mindset as he or she moves through a culture that is both tender and strong.
I didn’t get the chance to learn Persian, so I didn’t know how to do it. I went from being an inheritor of the Persian Ghazal to learning about the English novel after getting away from the brutality of the Islamic Republic’s regime in the 1980s and the war with Iraq that seemed to go on for a long time. With this new form, in my new language, I was able to go outside of the mysterious Persian tradition. I’m not writing about Iran. I want to write about people who are stuck, which is what I tried to do in my book Aria. Almost all the books I’ve suggested here are about being trapped in some way. The poems written by Sohrab Sepehri, who is the only poet in this group, are teaching the other poets how to get out of their own traps.
The Blind Owl by Sadegh Hedayat
If you were talking about modern Iranian literature, you couldn’t start by not talking about this book by the father of Persian magical realism, which is what this book is about. The Blind Owl is a story about a pen-case painter who goes into a coma because he is afraid of oppressive forces, abuse of power, sexual and gender hierarchy, and the modern Iranian society that he lives in. No other book shows the state of Iranian alienation and isolation, or the Persian ability to make the ugly beautiful.
My Uncle Napoleon by Iraj Pezeshkzad translated by Dick Davis
A coming-of-age story about a 13-year-old boy who witnesses his dysfunctional family and neighbors, including the eccentric patriarch of the family, uncle Napoleon, who is called that because of his love for the French emperor. The story, which takes place in the 1940s, becomes a little “absurd” because of its big-name characters and overblown situations. In other words, Pezeshkzad is writing in the great tradition of writing from Asia and the Middle East. Imagine having One Thousand and One Nights come to life in the small neighborhoods of Tehran in the 20th century.
Saved By Beauty by Roger Housden
A travel memoir by the British-American Housden, who is in love with Rumi and wants to learn more about the poet’s life. First, he gets drawn into Iran’s history of poetry and mysticism and its art and architecture. He also makes a lot of new friends while he’s there, and they help him learn about the country. But even though he wants to only think about the country’s beauty, Housden has to deal with the country’s darkness and ideological pitfalls.
Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
Satrapi’s autobiographical comic book tells the story of how she grew up in post-revolutionary Iran. Satrapi’s point of view as an upper-class Iranian child who is suddenly aware of the differences in class and religious expression is what makes the story important. These are the funniest and most heartfelt moments in the book, and they’re also the funniest. She tells her story through the eyes of a child who is both confused and curious. This is similar to how Iranian films have been made for many years, and it makes her story even more poignant.
Iran Between Two Revolutions by Ervand Abrahamian
Between the constitutional revolution of 1905-1911 and Islamic revolution of 1979, this book looks at a time when people were divided by religion, ethnicity, and class. It was written in 1982 and looks at the time between them. It’s probably the most in-depth look at the reigns of both Pahlavi kings and the British and American interference that let them rule and run a one-party system, which led to Islamist and communist movements in the 1960s and 70s. The 1979 revolution was the result.
Touba and the Meaning of Night by Shahrnush Parsipur
It was written after the author spent more than four years in an Iranian prison for political reasons. Parsipur’s works have been banned by the Islamic Republic because of this. This book looks at how the politics of Iran changed at the start of the 20th century through the life of a young woman, Touba. Following the death of her parents when Touba is 12, she is left to fend for herself. Touba proposes to a 52-year-old man in the hope that it will help her stay alive and make money. The book gives a rare, detailed, and sophisticated look at women’s lives in Iran, where men have all the power and women have to pay the price for it.
Things We Left Unsaid by Zoya Pirzad
Iranian-Armenian Pirzad set her story in 1960s Abadan, where there appears to be a lot of peace and quiet in the home. It takes a while for Clarice, the daydreaming mother and wife who lives with her husband, but Clarice starts to question the roles she and other women are supposed to play. There is a lot of subtle tension about sexuality and gender in the story. Pirzad could have used this to make a point about Iranian society and gender divisions without getting in trouble with the censors.
A Selection of Poems from The Eight Books by Sohrab Sepehri, translated by Bahiyeh Afnan Shahid
Every Iranian has their own favorite modern poet, from Ahmad Shamlou to Forough Farrokhzad to Simin Behbahani, but they all have their favorite. My name is Sepehri. His work is more like the great Persian mystical poets like Rumi, Hafez, Saadi, and Khayaam than any of the rest. Sepehri died of cancer in 1980. This is how it works: When he was alive, he was better known as a painter, but his poetry was also linked to his love of nature, like his painting. But there is also a connection to the most profound understandings of Sufi Islam, Vedanta philosophy, and maybe even the very early Christian teachings. When Shahid translated some of Sepehri’s books, he did a great job. Sepehri never tried to convert anyone, but his mind and heart are shown in The Eight Books.
Journey From The Land of No by Roya Hakakian
Iranian-Jewish writer and journalist Hakakian has written a memoir about growing up in Iran in the 1970s as a young activist. In it, she shows how the political reforms she and her friends were fighting for had been taken over by religious totalitarianism, which not only targeted her own Jewish community but also intellectual, egalitarian and democratic Iranians of any faith. When women’s rights are violated, Hakakian thinks this is the first sign that any political system is going to be run by a person who is very powerful.
Iran: A Modern History by Abbas Amanat
An in-depth look at the history of Iran over the last 500 years, starting with the rise of the Safavid dynasty and the rise of Shia Islam and its clerical establishment in the Persian ruling class. Amanat spent two decades writing his book, not only tracing historical tales of political intrigue but also looking into how Iran has changed its position in imperial geopolitics in the past and how it has changed. In this way, he tries to make sense of this history by looking for similarities between Persia’s unstable Safavid past and the current theocratic regime in Iran.