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Readings for Revolution

PUBLISHED: June 17, 2009

The Shia Revival

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.

Shahnameh, Ferdowsi
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

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.


Drew Johnson's picture
Drew Johnson · 14 years ago
What’s the fifth book?
Waldo Jaquith's picture
D’oh. Clearly my counting skills are weak, Drew. :) I’ve corrected it to read “four,” as it ought to. Thanks!
Michael's picture
Michael · 14 years ago
My mistake! I originally had the fifth book as the films of Abbas Kiarostami. But since they are not books at all, and the post is called Readings for Revolution, I took it out. I neglected to change the intro though. Thanks for the catch Drew.
Giovanni's picture
I’m currently reading The Ayatollah Begs to Differ, written by Hooman Majd, the Western-educated grandson of an ayatollah, and I’m finding it very enlightening. I have read several books about modern Iran written by westerners, and though most were quite good, they were missing the insider’s viewpoint that Majd is able to provide. He’s also a very charming storyteller.
Eric Hanson's picture
My favorite Iranian novel is My Uncle Napoleon. As sophisticated as Moliere or Waugh at their best. A dense, colorful family drama/comedy. It also describes the deep suspicion of the British that has not diminished in fifty years.

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