No one book could ever hope to encompass an entire country, let alone one as complex and multi-faceted as Iran. But if you read these four, you’ll be on your way to understanding the home to 66 million people, eight major ethnic groups, seven languages, five religions, and thousands of years of history.
Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi
A graphic memoir in two parts, Persepolis traces the childhood and adolescence of a upper-class Tehrani girl whose life is thrown into turmoil by the 1979 Iranian Revolution. Drawn in an exquisitely simple style, the book juxtaposes repressive ayatollahs and the loneliness of exile with other more prosaic concerns, such as body hair removal and Iranian aerobics.
Literally “The Book of Kings,” Shahnameh chronicles the myth and history of Persian civilization up to the introduction of Islam. Comprised of more than 60,000 rhyming couplets, the book is a cornerstone of Persian culture and literature. It’s also an important reminder that Iran traces its heritage back long before Islam to the days of Alexander the Great. If you don’t want to read all 60,000 couplets, the story of Rostam and Sohrab is as beautiful and heart-breaking as anything in any language.
The Shia Revival, Vali Nasr
It is impossible to understand Iran’s place in the Middle East without understanding the Shia revival. Although significant numbers of Shia live in Lebanon, Iraq, and the Gulf states, Iran is the only Shia majority country in the world. In The Shia Revival, Nasr argues that the ascendance of Iran and the fall of Saddam Hussein has given rise to a Shia Crescent that will reshape the Middle East and the world.
Funny in Farsi, Firoozeh Dumas
The 1979 revolution in Iran sparked a huge wave of emigration to Europe, other parts of the Middle East, and the United States, particularly Southern California. According to the Iranian Research Group at MIT, there are more than 500,000 Iranian-Americans living in the United States. Funny in Farsi is a lighthearted memoir about family and the cross-cultural misunderstandings that arise growing up Iranian-American on the beaches of California.