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July = Iran

Here we are, halfway through the year, with six countries under our belt and six more to go. Start thinking about where you’d like to visit (vicariously through fiction) next year, as I will be taking requests for the country list for the 2013 challenge. (Don’t tell me now, I’ll never remember! I’ll ask officially towards the end of the year.)

This month I’ve included a list of books set in Iran (and most by Iranian authors) to help get you started. 🙂

Again, factoids gleaned mostly from Wikipedia.

Country: Islamic Republic of Iran (was officially called Persia until 1935)
Continent: Asia (but we all call it the Middle East)
Size: 1,648,195 km2 (18th largest country in the world)
Population: 78,868,711
Language: Persian
Climate: ranges from arid or semi-arid to sub-tropical. Iran is one of the most mountainous countries, mostly situated on a plateau with a jungle-like rainforest to the north and desert to the east.
Ethnicity: Persian 65%, Azerbaijanis (16%), Kurds (7%), Lurs (6%), Arabs (2%) etc.
Religion: Islam (Shia 90-95%, Sunni 4-8%) and 2% are non-Islamic religious minorities, including Buddhism and Hinduism
Capital city: Tehran
Largest city: Tehran
Economy: 25th largest in the world by GDP, 18th by purchasing power. Mix of state ownership (for example, of oil), village agriculture and small-scale private trading. Suffers from chronic deficits because of large-scale state subsidies. Largest car manufacturer in the Middle East.
Natural resources: crude oil and natural gas (2nd in the world)
Landmarks: Persepolis relief, The crown jewels, various mosques, Qajar dynasty palaces and Esfahan are sightseeing wonders. It is home to the second-oldest tree in the world, a 4000-year-old cypress.

Mount Damavand, Iran’s highest point, is located in Amol County, Mazanderan.

Literacy rate: 80% +
Health: ranked 58th by the WHO
Politics: sort-of democratic, combining it with Islamic theocracy into its own unique system
History: Home to one of the world’s oldest civilisations, Iran’s human history is too long and involved to summarise here. Well worth studying though. But in terms of modern history, the Islamic (or Iranian) Revolution began in 1978 and lasted until the Shah fled the following year. In 1979 Iran became an Islamic republic, with Shia law enshrined. Iran “invented” the windmill and was instrumental in the development of mathematics, philosophy, astronomy, natural science and medicine.
Colonial history: When France, Britain, Russia and other European countries began taking an interest in the area, Iran lost sovereignty over several provinces by the 17th century.
Writers: “Persian literature has been considered by such thinkers as Goethe as one of the four main bodies of world literature.” Poets are big in Iran, as are scholars and thinkers. The list of contemporary authors is long and I fear we wouldn’t recognise their names, but you can check out the list here. But some contemporary Iranian books to look into are:
The Septembers of Shiraz by Dalia Sofer
The Saffron Kitchen by Yasmin Crowther
Cry for My Revolution, Iran by Manoucher Parvin
The Colonel by Mahmoud Dowlatabadi
Censoring an Iranian Love Story by Shahriar Mandanipour
Whirlwind by James Clavell
The Age of Orphans by Laleh Khadivi
Rooftops of Tehran by Mahbod Seraji
The Viper of Kerman by Christian Oliver
The House of the Mosque by Kader Abdolah
My Father’s Notebook by Kader Abdolah
Foreigner by Nahid Rachlin
The Persian Bride by James Buchan
In the Walled Gardens by Anahita Firouz
My Uncle Napoleon by Iraj Pezeshkzad
Jumping Over Fire by Nahid Rachlin
Cry of the Peacock, Caspian Rain & Moonlight on the Avenue of Faith by Gina B. Nahai
The Blood of Flowers by Anita Amirrezvani (Historical)

There are also lots of memoirs and graphic novels, including Prisoner of Tehran, Zahra’s Paradise, Persepolis and Nylon Road. Pretty much all of the books listed here are set before, during or after the revolution of 1978/9.

Naqsh-e Jahan Square


Once again, here are three questions you can consider when writing your reviews if you wish:

1. What did you learn about the country’s culture, history etc. from reading this book? Any new insights, any shifts in your perception, or did it align with what you knew/understood already?

2. How did land, geography, flora and fauna feature in the book? Did it have a distinct feel that helped you visualise and made you feel like you were there, or was the story more focused on plot?

3. Did the story make you want to visit/revisit the country, or explore it in a new way if you live there already; did it make you want to read more stories set in the country?

Happy reading!

12 comments to July = Iran

  • This is suchna cool challenge. Reading Lolita in Tehran is a good one too and I love Persepolis.


    Shannon Reply:

    @Laura, Oh yes, how could I have forgotten Reading Lolita in Tehran?! Another good one for the list!


  • Oh wow, I visited Iran in 2009 and found it a fascinating place – beautiful architecture, friendly people and great food! I’m not sure if I’ll get to read any of the books on your list this month but I’ll add a few to my list – thanks! 🙂


    Shannon Reply:

    Oh I’m so envious, I’d love to see it! I read that they don’t advise travelling there anymore, or to avoid the Iraq and Afghanistan borders, but it doesn’t strike me as that dangerous a place to visit.


  • Jae

    This looks like such a great challenge! I wish I’d signed up for it earlier in the year, but maybe I’ll do something similar next year.


    Shannon Reply:

    You’re more than welcome to join in anytime, or next year’s challenge starting in January. 🙂


  • Reading Lolita in Tehran is sitting on my TBR shelf waiting for me to have a reason to pull it…now you’ve given me one! Yay!


    Shannon Reply:

    I haven’t read it yet – and I think I packed away my copy – so I’m looking forward to your thoughts!


  • Such a fascinating country. I suck at challenges, so I’m not going to attempt this one, but I did want to suggest another book for your list–Echoes from the Other Land, a short story collection by Ava Homa, a Kuridsh-Iranian-Canadian writer. She’s very good.


  • I’ve just posted my review of the graphic novel An Iranian Metamorphosis and it seems like for the first time, I’m not the last one!


    Shannon Reply:

    Yay! There are so many great books to choose from for Iran, aren’t there?


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