Iran is much more than what is shown by the media. It is rich in art, culture, and literature. Iranian Literature is amongst the oldest in the world and paints a raw and more detailed picture of Iran, that many of us have not seen. Here is a list of 12 of the most important works in Iranian literature which give you a glimpse of the real Iran. This list is part of The Extraordinary Reading Challenge 2018.

01

Censoring An Iranian Love Story

Shahriar Mandanipour, Sara Khalili (Tr.)

Shahriar Mandanipour is one of the most acclaimed Iranian novelists. Censoring An Iranian Love Story is his first novel to be translated into English and is banned in Iran due to its take on censorship in Iran. Mandanipour provides us with a glimpse of what it’s like to live, to love, and to be a writer in Iran. The novel’s protagonist is the writer’s fictional alter ego, Mandanipour, who comes to realise that the world already has enough sorrow and stops writing dark and sad stories. Instead, he starts working on a love story and struggles to choose what to include in the story as he knows that the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance will never allow the novel to be published in its true form. Censoring An Iranian Love Story is a courageous work against censorship.

Buy it here.

02

The Blind Owl

Sadegh Hedayat, D. P. Costello (Tr.)

The Blind Owl is a frightening story of loss and despair and is regarded as one of the most important works in modern Iranian literature. Filled with powerful symbolism and haunting imagery, the book tells the story of an unnamed pen case painter who drifts into insanity after losing his mysterious lover. The painter then confesses to a shadow on the wall (that resembles an owl) that he is addicted to opium and has killed his wife. This dark and horrifying tale is as intriguing as it is disturbing, and is often compared to the works of Edgar Allan Poe.

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03

A Teaspoon Of Earth And Sea

Dina Nayeri

In A Teaspoon Of Earth and Sea, Dina Nayeri wonderfully captures the magic of imagination in a time of chaos. Set in 1980s Iran, the story revolves around an 11-year-old girl, Saba, who believes that her missing mother and twin sister have moved to America, and imagines their life in America. During the new Islamic regime, her imagination is the only way for her to escape from real life. Nayeri transports us to post-revolutionary Iran in a small village and lets us experience the everyday struggles of that time.

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04

Embroideries

Marjane Satrapi, Anjali Singh (Tr.)

Loosely based on true conversations, Embroideries is an amusing look into the sex lives of a group of Iranian women as they gather together one afternoon and share their stories of love, sex, marriage, double standards, etc, while the men take a nap. The women in the stories are Satrapi, her mother, her grandmother, their relatives and some neighbours. The bawdy stories explore societal taboos and the unrealistic expectations from women, such as hiding the fact that you aren’t a virgin from your husband, and never getting to fondle a man’s genitals. The graphic novel also hints at the sad fact that these funny, wild, and sexual conversations can only take place while men are asleep.

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05

Reading Lolita In Tehran

Azar Nafisi

Reading Lolita In Tehran is a true story about how literature can liberate readers from tyranny. From 1995 to 1997, Azar Nafisi secretly gathered seven of her best students every Thursday at her home to read forbidden Western literature, like Lolita by Nabokov. The students realise that the story of Lolita intertwined with their own realities as the Islamic state was treating its women the same way. Further, they learned to draw parallels between literature and the world they were living in. Reading Lolita In Tehran is a remarkable combination of literary criticism, social history, and memoir.

Buy it here.

06

My Sister, Guard Your Veil; My Brother, Guard your eyes: Uncensored Iranian Voices

Lila Azam Zanganeh (Editor)

This unique anthology, Uncensored Iranian Voices, argues that the western world has mistakenly portrayed Iran as a part of the ‘axis of evil’ where its citizens are always revolting against the officials. It is a wonderful collection of essays, memoirs, stories, and interviews by many renowned Iranian writers, journalists, and artists, such as Azar Nafisi, Reza Aslam, Azadeh Moaveni, and Marjane Satrapi. This is a great book to read to gain insight into Iran from the perspective of multiple artists and serves as an introduction to Iranian literature and art.

Buy it here.

07

Lipstick Jihad

Azadeh Moaveni

Lipstick Jihad is the story of a writer’s quest for her own identity, shuttling between Iranian and American cultures. In search of her roots, she travels to Iran for the first time and discovers a different Iran, beyond what is depicted by western media. She talks about Iran’s issues like brutal beatings and oppression in the name of Islamic laws. She also mentions the hypocrisy of a  society where even smiling at a stranger is considered a crime for women, but men can openly ask women for sexual favours. If you want to dig deep into the life and hardships of Iran, pick up Lipstick Jihad.

Buy it here.

08

The Cypress Tree: A Love Letter To Iran

Kamin Mohammadi

Mohammadi and her family fled from Iran during the 1979 revolution when she was just nine years old. The Cypress Tree tells the story of her journey back to Iran as a grown up, discovering the story of her family for the first time and, as a result, rediscovering her identity as an Iranian. She also recounts the horrors of the Iran-Iraq war, the exile of her family, and the ongoing fight for democracy. Mohammadi also shows the beautiful and exotic side of Iranian culture. The Cypress Tree transports you into an Iran of longing, heartache, struggle, and at the same time, also of hope and resilience.

Buy it here.

09

My Uncle Napoleon

Iraj Pezeshkzad, Dick Davis (Tr.)

My Uncle Napoleon is the humorous tale of an unnamed teenage boy who falls in love with his cousin, the daughter of the patriarch of his family. The story revolves around the protagonist’s attempts to stall his cousin’s arranged marriage even as his father and uncle plot against each other to settle family feuds. Pezeshkzad also introduces us to various Iranian traditions and cultures, and interestingly unique, hilarious, and memorable characters. My Uncle Napoleon is one of the sweetest, funniest, and most entertaining books to have come out of Iran.

Buy it here.

10

Savushun

Simin Daneshvar, M. R. Ghanoonparvar (Tr.)

Savushun is the first Persian novel written by a woman and is a magnificent portrayal of mid-20th Century Iran. It is the tale of a Persian family in Shiraz set at the time of the Allied occupation of Iran, during World War II. The story is seen through the eyes of Zari, a young wife and mother, who is caught between her desire for a traditional family and her struggle to find her own identity. Daneshvar touches on matters of gender politics, literature, love, and nationalism, and gives us a glimpse of pre-revolutionary Iran and its emerging despair.

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11

Shahnameh

Abolqasem Ferdowsi, Dick Davis (Tr.)

Shahnameh is among the greatest works of world literature and is called ‘the national epic of Persia’. Written between 980 and 1010 C.E., it is an epic poem divided into three parts and provides a historical account of Iran. In the first of the three parts, Ferdowsi focuses on the creation of the world, in the second, he details the pre-Islamic era, and in the last, he tells the story of the Arab invasion of Iran.  Shahnameh covers a range of emotions, such as triumph and loss, love and grief, and courage and cruelty. This literary masterpiece is often compared with the likes of Dante’s Divine Comedy, and the epics of Homer.

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12

Jewels Of Allah

Nina Ansary

In Jewels Of Allah, Ansary presents six common misconceptions about Iranian women and debunks them one by one with thorough research and analysis. She introduces us to the many strong and courageous female leaders of Iran throughout its history. She also details the emergence of a feminist movement in a completely patriarchal Iran after the Iranian Revolution. This is a must-read book for anyone who wants to understand the women’s rights movement in Iran.

Buy it here.

Have you read any of these Iranian authors? Do you have any other recommendations? Share with us in the comments.

Ankit Mahawar

Ankit Mahawar

Ankit loves stories, be it in any form- print, media or theatre. After reading Angels and Demons, he fell in love with books, especially suspense, thriller, and fantasy. He is a big fan of Harry Potter series. He quit his engineering career to become a writer and currently works with The Curious Reader. Apart from writing he also loves filmmaking, photography, traveling and cooking. You can reach him on Instagram.