TEHRAN, Iran ( Associated Press) — Iraj Pezheshqzad, an Iranian author whose best-selling comic novel, “My Uncle Napoleon,” highlights the self-aggrandizement and paranoid behavior of Persian culture as the country enters the modern era , has passed away. He was 94 years old.
Uncle Napoleon, whose delusions see him hand Britain into trouble during the days of his aristocratic family during World War II, became one of the most beloved television serials in Iran when it aired in 1976.
The fervor of the 1979 Islamic Revolution led to a ban on the book, and the series never aired again on Iranian state television. Pezeshkzad would eventually land in Los Angeles, part of an emigrant society of Iranians still there who jokingly refer to the California city today as “Tehrangles”.
Pezeshqzad’s words and idioms from the novel are still infused with Iranian culture today, including raucous references to “San Francisco” as an intuitive reference to sex. The same is about the power of love, as described in a scene by Mash Ghasam, Uncle Napoleon’s long-suffering servant.
“When you don’t see him, it’s like your heart has frozen,” says the servant portrayed in a softly lit dungeon scene in the series by famed actor Parviz Fainizadeh. “When you see that, it burns in your heart like a bakery oven.”
Iran’s semi-official ISNA news agency quoted Davoud Mossei, who publishes Pezeshqzad’s books, as a confirmation of his death on Wednesday. No cause of death was immediately offered. Foreign Persian language television channels also reported his death.
Born in Tehran in the late 1920s, Pezheshqzad grew up at the beginning of Iran’s Pahlavi dynasty. In “My Uncle Napoleon”, he focuses on an aristocratic family of the Qajar dynasty, which ruled Persia for more than 100 years. Many live in a complex with a huge garden, which is where the story takes place.
The late essayist Christopher Hitchens once referred to the novel as “a love story wrapped in a bildungsroman and wrapped in a conspiracy theory”—using the $10 term for a coming-of-age story. Happened. The narrator falls in love with his cousin, Uncle Napoleon’s daughter, but eventually never marries her.
But the story does more to explain the mindset of the Iranians, who in a generation found themselves dragged from an almost feudal, rural lifestyle to the modern era of the city. As soon as Persia formally became Iran, it became the target of world powers.
First, Britain and the Soviet Union invaded Iran in 1941 and deposed Shah Reza Pahlavi, who was concerned about his efforts towards Adolf Hitler in Germany. His younger son, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, took the throne. In 1953, a CIA- and British-backed coup consolidated Shah’s power and overthrew the country’s elected prime minister.
But even before the modern era, weak Persian dynasties found themselves under powerful foreign powers. That paranoia flows into modern-day Iran, where its theocracy now finds itself targeted in attacks on its accelerated nuclear program But there is also a tendency to blame all of its woes on conspirators abroad.
“Although the book is not political, it is politically subversive, targeting a certain mindset and point of view,” author Azar Nafisi wrote in 2006., “Its protagonist is a small-minded and incompetent personality who blames his failures and his own insignificance on an all-powerful entity, making himself important and indispensable.
“In Iran, for example, as Pezheshqzad noted elsewhere, this attitude is not confined to the ‘common’ people but is in fact more prevalent among the so-called political and intellectual elite.”
Everything Pezeshkzad said came from birth in his family.
“When I was learning to talk, the words I heard followed by bread, water, meat, etc. were, ‘Yeah. This is the work of the British,’” he once said in a 2009 BBC documentary.
“My Uncle Napoleon” was published in the early 1970s, as literacy rates rose along with global oil prices, fueling the Shah’s modernization efforts in the country. The book sold millions of copies, and three years later a television serial of the same name was produced. Iranians remember the cleanliness of the streets in Tehran.
Pezeshkzad himself served as a cultural officer in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs under the Shah. But soon, he will flee Tehran forever with the advent of the Islamic Revolution, joining Iranian Prime Minister Shapor Bakhtiar in Paris and his National Resistance Movement of Iran. Even the Shah would hold the Soviets and the British responsible for eventually being pushed out of power.
“By the time I wrote this novel, everyone had realized that British imperialism, with all its might and greatness, had withered,” he told the BBC. “However, I had underestimated this fear and, especially after the Revolution, I realized that it was – and still is – extremely strong.”
He described how people admired him for seeing everything the British hand – the exact opposite of what he tried to say in his novel.
“I felt like a bucket of cold water had been poured over me,” he said.
He later moved to Los Angeles, where he occasionally lectured at universities. In March 2020, he gave an interview to Chelcherag, the tabloid marking the Persian New Year, in which he described being unable to read or write due to macular degeneration. He said the people he once knew in Tehran had all died with age, but he longed to return home for the last time.
“I wish I could come to Iran. Visit my city, my own Tehran,” he said. “How can a person not miss their city?”
Gambrel reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Associated Press writer Amir Vahdat in Tehran contributed to this report.