Thursday, May 14, 2015

My Uncle Napoleon

Fabulous cover!
My Uncle Napoleon, by Iraj Pezeshkzad

A large Iranian family lives in a compound of houses surrounding a garden, and they're ruled over by the patriarch, Dear Uncle.  He has so much admiration for Napoleon, and so much conviction that his own life mirrors that of the French general, that the kids call him Dear Uncle Napoleon.  In fact he is narrow, paranoid, and blustering; he's convinced himself that he was a great warrior against the English in his youth, and the whole family revolves around his tyrannical bad temper.

And the narrator, a young boy who is never named, falls in love with Dear Uncle's daughter Layli.

Unfortunately, the boy's father has a bit of a feud going with Dear Uncle, and spends most of the novel encouraging his paranoia about the English.  Boy's only confidant is his Uncle Asadollah, who is sympathetic, but also has a one-track mind.  His solution is always the same--"a little trip to San Francisco," which is his favorite euphemism and only topic of conversation.

With all the crazy relatives around, it's constant mayhem in the compound.  Most of the novel is farcical comedy and convoluted situations that remind me of old Three's Company episodes.  But at the heart is a core of sadness and tragedy--a protest at how narrow-minded curmudgeons arrange the lives of the younger generation without ever considering their feelings.

Pezeshkzad published his novel in 1973, and it was an instant hit in Iran.  It's one of the most popular modern novels of Iran, and of course it's banned now, but once there was a prominent TV series made, and it's a cultural touchstone.  "Uncle Napoleon" is frequently invoked, or so Azar Nafisi says in an introduction.  So if you're interested in the Middle East, or in world literature generally, it's a must-read.  Plus it's really funny.  And sad.

2 comments:

Jenny @ Reading the End said...

That is an excellent cover, AND this has been on my TBR list so long that it's nearly the top thing on there, most of the items above it having been read and removed by this time. I'm glad you reminded me of it and enjoyed it so much -- I've been feeling that it would be an obligation to read, thus avoiding reading it, and this post reminds me that it could just as easily be a pleasure.

Jean said...

Oh, I think you'll have fun with it! Don't put it off much longer. I've often done that myself--something sits there so long that it doesn't look fun anymore.