Heyyy ONTD! Here's June coming up and once again we have our ONTD Reading Challenge post, for those of us who aren't taking the Art of Not Reading classes at ONTD University...
This month's destination is IRAN, and as always I have picked some book recs for you guys, based on what I think ONTD will like, existing internet recommendations, how available the books probably are, and how good the ratings on Goodreads are. I hope you will enjoy them, even if you're just writing down the recs for whenever you have time!
The Blind Owl (Sadegh Hedayat)
Considered the most important work of modern Iranian literature, The Blind Owl is a haunting tale of loss and spiritual degradation. Replete with potent symbolism and terrifying surrealistic imagery, Sadegh Hedayat's masterpice details a young man's despair after losing a mysterious lover. And as the author gradually drifts into frenzy and madness, the reader becomes caught in the sandstorm of Hedayat's bleak vision of the human condition. The Blind Owl, which has been translated into many foreign languages, has often been compared to the writing of Edgar Allan Poe.
The Stationery Shop (Marjan Kamali)
Roya, a dreamy, idealistic teenager living amid the political upheaval of 1953 Tehran, finds a literary oasis in kindly Mr. Fakhri’s neighborhood stationery shop, stocked with books and pens and bottles of jewel-colored ink.
Then Mr. Fakhri, with a keen instinct for a budding romance, introduces Roya to his other favorite customer—handsome Bahman, who has a burning passion for justice and a love for Rumi’s poetry—and she loses her heart at once. Their romance blossoms, and the little stationery shop remains their favorite place in all of Tehran.
A few short months later, on the eve of their marriage, Roya agrees to meet Bahman at the town square when violence erupts—a result of the coup d’etat that forever changes their country’s future. In the chaos, Bahman never shows. For weeks, Roya tries desperately to contact him, but her efforts are fruitless. With a sorrowful heart, she moves on—to college in California, to another man, to a life in New England—until, more than sixty years later, an accident of fate leads her back to Bahman and offers her a chance to ask him the questions that have haunted her for more than half a century: Why did you leave? Where did you go? How is it that you were able to forget me?
My Part of Her (Javad Djavahery)
In exiled Iranian author Javad Djavahery’s captivating English debut, a youthful betrayal during a summer on the Caspian sea has far-reaching consequences for a group of friends as their lives are irrevocably altered by the Revolution.
For our unnamed confessor, the summer months spent on the Caspian Sea during the 1970s are a magically transformative experience. There, he is not the “poor relative from the North,” but a welcome guest at his wealthy cousin Nilou’s home and the gatekeeper of her affections. He revels in the power of orchestrating the attentions of her many admirers, granting and denying access to her would-be lovers. But in a moment of jealousy and youthful bravado, he betrays and humiliates an unlikely suitor, setting into motion a series of events that will have drastic repercussions for all of them as the country is forever transformed by the Iranian Revolution a few short years later.
Over the next twenty years, the lingering effects of that betrayal set the friends on radically different paths in the wake of political, religious, and cultural upheaval. Their surprising final reunion reveals the consequences of revenge and self-preservation as they each must decide whether and how to forget the past. Urgent and gorgeously written, My Part of Her captures the innocence of youth, the folly of love, and the capriciousness of fate as these friends find themselves on opposing sides of the seismic rifts of history.
The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree (Shokoofeh Azar)
The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree is an extraordinarily powerful and evocative literary novel set in Iran in the period immediately after the Islamic Revolution in 1979. Using the lyrical magic realism style of classical Persian storytelling, Azar draws the reader deep into the heart of a family caught in the maelstrom of post-revolutionary chaos and brutality that sweeps across an ancient land and its people.
The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree is really an embodiment of Iranian life in constant oscillation, struggle and play between four opposing poles: life and death; politics and religion. The sorrow residing in the depths of our joy is the product of a life between these four poles.
Disoriental (Négar Djavadi)
Kimiâ Sadr fled Iran at the age of ten in the company of her mother and sisters to join her father in France. Now twenty-five, with a new life and the prospect of a child, Kimiâ is inundated by her own memories and the stories of her ancestors, which reach her in unstoppable, uncontainable waves. In the waiting room of a Parisian fertility clinic, generations of flamboyant Sadrs return to her, including her formidable great-grandfather Montazemolmolk, with his harem of fifty-two wives, and her parents, Darius and Sara, stalwart opponents of each regime that befalls them.
In this high-spirited, kaleidoscopic story, key moments of Iranian history, politics, and culture punctuate stories of family drama and triumph. Yet it is Kimiâ herself—punk-rock aficionado, storyteller extraordinaire, a Scheherazade of our time, and above all a modern woman divided between family traditions and her own “disorientalization”—who forms the heart of this bestselling and beloved novel.
My Uncle Napoleon (Iraj Pezeshkzad)
A teenage boy makes the mistake of falling in love with the much-protected daughter of his uncle, mischievously nicknamed after his hero Napoleon Bonaparte, the curmudgeonly self-appointed patriarch of a large and extended Iranian family in 1940s Tehran.
What We Owe (Golnaz Hashemzadeh Bonde)
Nahid has six months left to live. Or so the doctors say. But Nahid is not the type to trust anyone. She resents the cancer diagnosis she has been given and the doctor who has given it to her. Bubbling inside her is also resentment toward life as it turned out, and the fact that it will go on without her. She feels alone, alone with her illness and alone with her thoughts. She yearns yet fails to connect with her only daughter, Aram. As the rawness of death draws near, Nahid should want to protect Aram from pain. She knows she should. Yet what is a daughter but one born to share in her mother’s pain?
At fifty, Nahid is no stranger to death. As a Marxist revolutionary in eighties Iran, she saw loved ones killed in the street and was forced to flee to Sweden. She and her husband abandoned their roots to build a new life in a new country. They told themselves they did it for their newborn daughter, so she could live free. But now as she stands on the precipice facing death, Nahid understands that what you thought you escaped will never let you go. And without roots, can you ever truly be free?
The Septembers of Shiraz (Dalia Sofer)
In the aftermath of the Iranian revolution, rare-gem dealer Isaac Amin is arrested, wrongly accused of being a spy. Terrified by his disappearance, his family must reconcile a new world of cruelty and chaos with the collapse of everything they have known.
As Isaac navigates the tedium and terrors of prison, forging tenuous trusts, his wife feverishly searches for him, suspecting, all the while, that their once-trusted housekeeper has turned on them and is now acting as an informer.
And as his daughter, in a childlike attempt to stop the wave of baseless arrests, engages in illicit activities, his son, sent to New York before the rise of the Ayatollahs, struggles to find happiness even as he realizes that his family may soon be forced to embark on a journey of incalculable danger.
Women Without Men: A Novel of Modern Iran (Shahrnush Parsipur)
Shortly after the 1989 publication of Women Without Men in her native Iran, Shahrnush Parsipur was arrested and jailed for her frank and defiant portrayal of women’s sexuality. Now banned in Iran, this small masterpiece was eventually translated into several languages and introduces U.S. readers to the work of a brilliant Persian writer. With a tone that is stark, and bold, Women Without Men creates an evocative allegory of life for contemporary Iranian women. In the interwoven destinies of five women, simple situations such as walking down a road or leaving the house become, in the tumult of post-WWII Iran, horrific and defiant as women escape the narrow confines of family and society only to face daunting new challenges.
Savushun: A Novel About Modern Iran (Simin Daneshvar)
Savushun chronicles the life of a Persian family during the Allied occupation of Iran during World War II. It is set in Shiraz, a town which evokes images of Persepolis and pre-Islamic monuments, the great poets, the shrines, Sufis, and nomadic tribes within a historical web of the interests, privilege and influence of foreign powers; corruption, incompetence and arrogance of persons in authority; the paternalistic landowner-peasant relationship; tribalism; and the fear of famine. The story is seen through the eyes of Zari, a young wife and mother, who copes with her idealistic and uncompromising husband while struggling with her desire for traditional family life and her need for individual identity.
Daneshvar's style is both sensitive and imaginative, while following cultural themes and metaphors. Within basic Iranian paradigms, the characters play out the roles inherent in their personalities. While Savushun is a unique piece of literature that transcends the boundaries of the historical community in which it was written, it is also the best single work for understanding modern Iran. Although written prior to the Islamic Revolution, it brilliantly portrays the social and historical forces that gave pre-revolutionary Iran its characteristic hopelessness and emerging desperation so inadequately understood by outsiders.
Out of Mesopotamia (Salar Abdoh)
Saleh, the narrator of Out of Mesopotamia, is a middle-aged Iranian journalist who moonlights as a writer for one of Iran’s most popular TV shows but cannot keep himself away from the front lines in neighboring Iraq and Syria. There, the fight against the Islamic State is a proxy war, an existential battle, a declaration of faith, and, for some, a passing weekend affair.
After weeks spent dodging RPGs, witnessing acts of savagery and stupidity, Saleh returns to civilian life in Tehran but finds it to be an unbearably dislocating experience. Pursued by his official handler from state security, opportunistic colleagues, and the woman who broke his heart, Saleh has reason to again flee from everyday life. Surrounded by men whose willingness to achieve martyrdom both fascinates and appalls him, Saleh struggles to make sense of himself and the turmoil in his midst.
An unprecedented glimpse into “endless war” from a Middle Eastern perspective, Out of Mesopotamia follows in the tradition of the Western canon of martial writers--from Hemingway and Orwell to Tim O’Brien and Philip Caputo--but then subverts and expands upon the genre before completely blowing it apart. Drawing from his firsthand experience of being embedded with Shia militias on the ground in Iraq and Syria, Abdoh gives agency to the voiceless while offering a meditation on war that is moving, humane, darkly funny, and resonantly true.
The Ungrateful Refugee (Dina Nayeri)
What is it like to be a refugee? It is a question many of us do not give much thought to, and yet there are more than 25 million refugees in the world. To be a refugee is to grapple with your place in society, attempting to reconcile the life you have known with a new, unfamiliar home. All this while bearing the burden of gratitude in your host nation: the expectation that you should be forever thankful for the space you have been allowed.
Aged eight, Dina Nayeri fled Iran along with her mother and brother, and lived in the crumbling shell of an Italian hotel-turned–refugee camp. Eventually she was granted asylum in America. She settled in Oklahoma, then made her way to Princeton. In this book, Nayeri weaves together her own vivid story with the stories of other refugees and asylum seekers in recent years, bringing us inside their daily lives and taking us through the different stages of their journeys, from escape to asylum to resettlement. In these pages, a couple falls in love over the phone, and women gather to prepare the noodles that remind them of home. A closeted queer man tries to make his case truthfully as he seeks asylum, and a translator attempts to help new arrivals present their stories to officials.
Nothing here is flattened; nothing is simplistic. Nayeri offers a new understanding of refugee life, confronting dangers from the metaphor of the swarm to the notion of “good” immigrants. She calls attention to the harmful way in which Western governments privilege certain dangers over others. With surprising and provocative questions, The Ungrateful Refugee recalibrates the conversation around the refugee experience. Here are the real human stories of what it is like to be forced to flee your home, and to journey across borders in the hope of starting afresh.
Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books (Azar Nafisi)
Every Thursday morning for two years in the Islamic Republic of Iran, a bold and inspired teacher named Azar Nafisi secretly gathered seven of her most committed female students to read forbidden Western classics. As Islamic morality squads staged arbitrary raids in Tehran, fundamentalists seized hold of the universities, and a blind censor stifled artistic expression, the girls in Azar Nafisi's living room risked removing their veils and immersed themselves in the worlds of Jane Austen, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Henry James, and Vladimir Nabokov. In this extraordinary memoir, their stories become intertwined with the ones they are reading. Reading Lolita in Tehran is a remarkable exploration of resilience in the face of tyranny and a celebration of the liberating power of literature.
I'm Writing You From Tehran (Delphine Minoui)
Suffering the recent loss of her beloved grandfather and newly committed to a career in journalism, Delphine Minoui decided to visit Iran for the first time since the revolution – since she was four years old. It was 1998. She would stay for ten years.
In the course of that decade, great change comes to both writer and country, often at the same time. Minoui settles into daily life – getting to know her devout grandmother for the first time, making friends with local women who help her escape secret dance parties when the morality police arrive, figuring out how to be a journalist in a country that is suspicious of the press and Westerners. Once she finally starts to learn Persian, she begins to see Iran through her grandfather’s eyes. And so it is all the more crushing when the political situation falters. She is caught up in protests and interrogated by secret police; some friends disappear and others may be tracking her movements. She finds love, loses her press credentials, marries, and is separated from her husband by erupting global conflict. Through it all, her love for this place and its people deepens and she discovers in her family’s past a mission that will shape her entire future.
Framed as a letter to her grandfather and filled with disarming characters in momentous times, I’m Writing You from Tehran is an unforgettable, moving view into an often obscured part of our world.
Iran: A Modern History (Abbas Amanat)
This history of modern Iran is not a survey in the conventional sense, but an ambitious exploration of the nation that offers a revealing look at how events, people, and institutions are shaped by trends and currents that sometimes reach back hundreds of years. Abbas Amanat covers the dynasties, revolutions, civil wars, foreign occupation, and new Islamic regime of this complex period in history.
Amanat combines chronological and thematic approaches, exploring events with lasting implications for modern Iran and the world. Drawing on the latest historical scholarship and emphasizing the twentieth century in its coverage, the book addresses debates about Iran’s culture and politics. Political history is the driving focus of this narrative based on decades of research and study, which is layered with discussions of literature, music, and the arts; ideology and religion; economy and society; and cultural identity and heritage.
MORE LISTS OF IRANIAN BOOK RECS
Asian American Writer's Workshop (100 fiction recs)
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ONTD, what's your pick for this month? Have you read any books by Iranian authors? What would you rec to your fellow ONTDers?