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)
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.
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.
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?