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My Uncle Napoleon by Iraj Pezeshkzad

My Uncle Napoleon (1973)

by Iraj Pezeshkzad

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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Showing 1-5 of 6 (next | show all)
My Uncle Napoleon is the farcical family drama centered around the delusional Dear Uncle Napoleon - a tyrannical patriarch whose stories of fighting lowly bandits in the South eventually evolve into full-blown epic battles with the British Empire. Basically the book is centered around the conflict between fiction and reality, between truth and lies - in a society where this distinction (or the moral benefits of this distinction) is not always evident. The plot consists of the unnamed narrator trying to get his father and Uncle Napoleon to bury the hatchet so that he has a chance of marrying his cousin - not an easy task by any standards.

In the book there was a stark contrast between the narrator, who directly and honestly confessed his love to his cousin Layli, Uncle Napoleon's daughter, and the secretive scheming, euphemisms and lies that pervaded the interactions and conversations among the rest of the family. Some of this is due to the nature of Iranian culture, I presume (for example the non-naming of private parts, which of course does not prevent them from being the primary comedic material of the story), and part of it is just the family not being able to come to terms with their problems. There is also definitely something socially critical in the way the characters are portrayed (gossiping, overly concerned with their family "honor", their craftiness), although they are not specific to any single culture or society. However my Iranian friend, who recommended this novel, does consider the characters distinctly Iranian and the novel distinctly critical of Iranian society, so I'll go with that.

To be honest I wanted to like this book more than I did. I'm still in love with it as a concept, as a book about the nature and consequences of delusion and about the demise of family unity in the face of pride and vindictiveness. I loved the idea of a family drama and a farce set in pre-revolution Iran, but... I definitely have problems with the way this novel was executed, and I did not enjoy it quite as much as I could have.

For one: why the first-person narrator? He was totally unneeded, and his existence necessitated the most ridiculous hideouts and eavesdropping for every scene in which he was not openly present. Having the story told this way did not contribute to it positively; it only made it sound silly and unrealistic. I mean there are only so many places you can hide.

The writing was also far from impressive, at least most of the time. This may be the fault of the translation, but it seems Pezeshkzad himself has approved it, so I can still hold him accountable. There was a lot of telling, and very little showing, the language was often repetitive - e.g. a section where Dear Uncle Napoleons smile is described as "seraphic" three times within two pages - that's lazy - and it often shifted from very sophisticated to very simple in the same paragraph.

In regards to the humor, I did have some genuine laugh-out-loud moments, and the deputy and his murder investigation methods were especially funny in my opinion. There were also lots of sex jokes, which I hadn't anticipated, and they were funny... the first few times. Reiteration is the key with this book - the same jokes, the same descriptions (what do I know about Layli other than that she has big, black eyes)... It got a bit tedious after the first half of the book, although the writer was certainly adept at creating all sorts of new scandals and conflicts to keep the plot moving forward.

I also felt the characters were very one-dimensional; they never developed or showed psychological depth (with the exception of Uncle Napoleon and Asadollah Mirza). They were fun, but they never escaped their molds, which made them a bit boring after a certain point.

The ending was unexpectedly sad and very poignant. I wish that more of the book had been like it. Pezeshkzad shows there that he is capable of depth, but he just prefers to make penis jokes I guess. It's probably the ending that convinced me to allot this book 3 stars and not 2.5.

Why should I lie? To the grave it's ah, ah... I have to say that I'm most certainly glad to have read this book, which is so important culturally to modern Iran, but I admit that I'm a bit disappointed with the technical aspect of it - I did not find it well-written or well-constructed, although it was quite entertaining, imaginative and touched on some important issues in an interesting way along with providing a different and much-needed view of Iran and its people and culture. ( )
  bulgarianrose | Mar 14, 2018 |
In a world increasingly polarised between Islam and the West, it is important that moderate intelligent people keep open minds and work at understanding the “other side”. With Bush and his ilk now demonising Iran, it seemed like a good time to read and Iranian novel, and this one came to hand. Written in the seventies, it speaks of Iran in the early forties. While the novel makes no pretence at realism (it is a farce that lampoons stereotypes), it describes a delightful cast of characters no better or worse than any on “our side”.

Reading it I was variously reminded of the Mikado, Faulty Towers, the Pink Panther with characters that could have been drawn directly out of them.

The unnamed 14 year old narrator describes episodes in the life of his extended family (several generations over several households), their petty bickering, revenges and truces. He himself is madly in love with his cousin and views all disagreements as dangerous to his long term prospects to win her hand. He is aided in his peace-leeping attempts by a lecherous, lascivious but very reasonable uncle who continuously advises him to take her to San Francisco, his code word for a very carnal solution.

This is an old-fashioned book, its salaciousness never offensive. It reminded me to put Gabriel Chevallier’s Clochemerle onto my books-to-read-again list. Mostly I appreciated it for reminding me, lest I forget, that Iranians are just like you and me. ( )
  tchelyzt | Jul 15, 2017 |
When this novel was first published in Iran, it became a huge hit and went on to become a popular television series. In 1979, the novel was banned by the Guardian Council. The novel is a delightful farce concerning various members of an extended Iranian family ruled by their autocratic uncle who is known as Uncle Napoleon. Part Tom Jones and part Don Quixote, My Uncle Napoleon helps explain (and dispel) some of the current animosity between Iran and the West. Enjoy.
1 vote vplprl | Nov 15, 2013 |
My Uncle Napoleon is sort of like a 500 page Benny Hill sketch. The narrator runs back and forth between his family's houses listening to completely outrageous family feuding, paranoid delusions, lies and posturing, and airing of dirty family laundry. In between, he moons over his cousin Layli, with whom he has fallen in love.

I wanted to give up somewhere in the middle, but persevered. And you really do want to find out whether the English are coming for Dear Uncle or whether Dad gets his revenge for his ruined business. The only character I wished would drop out of the book quietly was Dustali - and I really didn't want to know who the father of Qamar's child is. ick.

Side note: I might never be able to talk about traveling to California again without giggling. ( )
2 vote bexaplex | May 20, 2010 |
Substance: The family dynamics of Iranians in the mid-twentieth-century are not unlike those of any patriarch-dominant culture; think 'My Big Fat Greek Wedding' or Pearl Buck's China.
Style: The popularity of the book as an Iranian sit-com says all you need to know. The characters are exactly that; and the one-joke 'side-splitting mayhem' palls quickly.
  librisissimo | Jul 8, 2009 |
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» Add other authors (2 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Iraj Pezeshkzadprimary authorall editionscalculated
Davis, DickTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0812974433, Paperback)

The most beloved Iranian novel of the twentieth century

“God forbid, I’ve fallen in love with Layli!” So begins the farce of our narrator’s life, one spent in a large extended Iranian family lorded over by the blustering, paranoid patriarch, Dear Uncle Napoleon. When Uncle Napoleon’s least-favorite nephew falls for his daughter, Layli, family fortunes are reversed, feuds fired up and resolved, and assignations attempted and thwarted.

First published in Iran in the 1970s and adapted into a hugely successful television series, this beloved novel is now “Suggested Reading” in Azar Nafisi’s Reading Lolita in Tehran. My Uncle Napoleon is a timeless and universal satire of first love and family intrigue.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:07:20 -0400)

A satire on Iranian society featuring an eccentric uncle, a snob with an invented heroic past who worships Napoleon, Hitler and hates the English. It is narrated by his nephew, who is in love with his daughter. The novel was made into a TV series.

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