Iraj Pezeshkzad, an Iranian author whose bestseller is the comic book novel My Uncle Napoleon He scoffed Persian the self-aggrandizement and paranoid behavior of culture as the country entered the modern age died out. He was 94 years old.
The torments of Napoleon’s uncle, whose delusions lead him to see Britain’s hand in trouble plaguing his stagnant days of his aristocratic family during World War II, became one of Iran’s most popular television series when it aired in 1976.
Due to the zeal of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, the book was banned and the series was never aired again on Iranian state television. Pezeshkzad would eventually land Los Angeles part of the Iranian expatriate society who are still there, who jokingly call the California city »Tehrangele “even today.
Pezeshkzad’s words and phrases from the novel still overwhelm Iranian culture today, including infamous references to “San Francisco” as a hint of sexual intercourse. The same is true of passages about the power of love, as described in one scene by Napoleon’s uncle’s long-suffering servant, Mash Ghasem.
“When you don’t see it, it’s as if your heart is frozen,” says a servant portrayed by the famous actor Parviz Fannizadeh in the series in a softly lit basement scene. “When you see her, it’s like lighting a baking pan in your heart.”
Iran’s semi-official ISNA news agency quoted Davood Mosaei on Wednesday as publishing Pezeshkzad’s books to confirm his death. The cause of death was not immediately stated. His death was also reported by foreign television channels in Farsi.
His death was not reported by Iranian state media, although the British ambassador to Iran expressed condolences.
“My sincere condolences and grief over the death of one of Iran’s great literary figures – Iraj Pezeshkzada – whose subtle but powerful satire is a permanent window into Iranian culture,” Simon Shercliff wrote on Twitter.
Pezeshkzad, born in Tehran in the late 1920s, came of age at the beginning of the Iranian Pahlavi dynasty. In “My Uncle Napoleon,” it focuses on an aristocratic family from the Qajar dynasty that ruled Persia for more than 100 years. Several of them live in a complex with a large garden where the story takes place.
The late essayist Christopher Hitchens once referred to the novel as a “love story wrapped in bildungsroman and wrapped in conspiracy theory” – in a word for $ 10 for an adult story. The narrator loves his uncle Napoleon’s daughter, his cousin, but in the end never marries her.
But the story explains the mindset of the Iranians, who in one generation found themselves drawn from an almost feudal, rural way of life to the modern age of urban landscapes. When Persia formally became Iran, it became a target of world powers.
First, Britain and the Soviet Union invaded Iran in 1941 and ousted Shah Reza Pahlavi, who was concerned about his collaboration with Adolf Hitler in Germany. His young son Mohammad Reza Pahlavi took the throne. In 1953, a coup backed by the CIA and the British consolidated the Shah’s power and overthrew the country’s elected prime minister.
But even before the modern era, weaker Persian dynasties found themselves under strong foreign forces. This paranoia bleeds into modern-day Iran, where his theocracy is now the target of attacks on his accelerated nuclear program, but he also has a tendency to blame conspirators abroad for all his problems.
“Although the book is not political, it is politically subversive, targeting a certain mindset and attitude,” wrote author Azar Nafisi in 2006. “Its protagonist is a small-minded and incompetent personality who blames everyone for his failures and his own insignificance – a strong entity, thus becoming important and indispensable.
“In Iran, for example, as Pezeshkzad mentioned elsewhere, this relationship is not limited to ‘ordinary’ people, but is in fact more prevalent among the so-called political and intellectual elite.”
This is something Pezeshkzad said originated in his family.
“When I was learning to speak, the words I heard on bread, water, meat and so on were,‘ Yes. it’s the work of the British, “he once told a 2009 BBC documentary.
The publication of “My Uncle Napoleon” came in the early 1970s, when literacy rates rose upward along with world oil prices, spurring the Shah’s efforts to modernize the country. The book sold millions of copies and three years later brought a television series of the same name. Iranians remember cleaning the streets of Tehran during the broadcast.
Pezeshkzad himself served under chess as a cultural official at the Foreign Ministry. But soon, with the advent of the Islamic Revolution, he would flee Tehran forever and join Iranian Prime Minister Shapour Bakhtiar in Paris and his national resistance movement, Iran. Even chess would blame the Soviets and the British for having a hand in being finally pushed out of power.
“By the time I wrote this novel, almost everyone realized that British imperialism had dried up with all its power and greatness,” he told the BBC. “However, I underestimated this phobia, and especially after the revolution, I found that it was – and still is – extremely strong.”
He described people praising him for seeing the British betray everything – just the opposite of what he was trying to say in his novel.
“I felt like I was being doused with a bucket of cold water,” he added.
He later moved to Los Angeles, where he occasionally lectured at universities. In March 2020, on the occasion of the Persian New Year, he gave an interview to the tabloid Chelcheragh, in which he described that he could no longer read or write due to macular degeneration. He said those he once knew in Tehran all died of old age, but he wanted to return home one last time.
“I wish I could come to Iran. Visit my city, my own Tehran, ”he said. “How can a man not miss his place?”
Gambrell reported from Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. Associated Press writer Amir Vahdat of Tehran contributed to this report.