An uproarious and endearing Iranian novel, first published in Iran over twenty years ago, which became the basis for a highly popular television series. The story tells of an unruly extended family, living within and around a walled enclave in Tehran in the early 1940s—and specifically of said family's domination by its ``Dear Uncle Napoleon'' (the portentous rubric by which its fussbudget megalomaniac despot is addressed) as observed and recorded by Uncle's unnamed nephew, whose idealistic love for his beautiful cousin Layli forms one of the two major plotlines here. The other is Uncle's paranoid conviction that all evil flows from his country's ill-advised friendliness with foreign nations, especially Great Britain (the story is set at a time when England and Russia separately schemed to control Iran's oil resources, and preferential trade status was granted the hated British by an impoverished national treasury). Uncle is a brilliant comic creation, whose monstrous egomania and folly are shown all the more powerfully through his unjudging nephew's (usually averted) eyes. Neither his false claim of military heroism nor the fulsome letter he composes to Adolph Hitler (describing his own resistance to British colonialism and soliciting the FÅhrer's protection), significantly ruffles the novel's essential sunniness and serenity. And Pezeshkzad surrounds his memorable antihero with a gallery of superbly drawn supporting characters: Mash Qasem, the resourceful servant who plays pragmatist Sancho Panza to Uncle's self-absorbed Don Quixote; henpecked Dustali Khan, whose fear of his shrewish wife Aziz is vividly exacerbated by an almost Bobbitt-like marital misadventure; and Deputy Taymur, a choleric police investigator who discovers labyrinthine plots in every innocent passing remark, and provides a hilarious counterpart and parallel to Uncle's embattled dignity. Our own paranoid image of Iranians as bomb-toting fanatics looking for Salman Rushdie under every rug might just be altered by this wonderful comic novel, one of the most entertaining books we're likely to see this year.
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