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The satirical novel My Uncle Napoleon by Iraj Pezeshkzad was briefly banned in Iran in the 1970s. Presumably this was because some aspects of its portrayal of Iranian society were considered undesirable by the new government. In order to find out whether or not I'm likely to enjoy this book, I'd like to know more specifically exactly which aspects these were. @BESW suggested that I post this as a question on the main site, so here it is.

Why, specifically, was My Uncle Napoleon banned in Iran after 1979?

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    I didn't know you had an Uncle Napoleon. Why don't you ask him about the time he was banned from Iran? – Shokhet Jun 7 '17 at 0:23
  • More seriously, the references on the WP page may be useful. I'm skimming theguardian.com/books/2006/may/13/… and old.seattletimes.com/html/books/2002972461_unclenapoleon07.html now. – Shokhet Jun 7 '17 at 0:25
  • @Shokhet Yes, it's this guy. I already pinged him :-P – Rand al'Thor Jun 7 '17 at 0:33
  • @Shokhet Maybe you can use those links to put together an answer, even if it's partial or speculative? :-) Also, if there's an official list of banned books, it may include a reason why this book was banned, but of course a good answer would also note that the official reason may not be the real one. – Rand al'Thor Jun 7 '17 at 0:34
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Here are some excerpts from Azar Nafisi's introduction to a new edition of the novel (published, and slightly edited, on The Guardian's website, 5/13/2006) that may indicate why it was banned by the Iranian government. In brief, it criticized the state of society and government in Iran at the time, and also talked about "love and eroticism" in a way that many puritanical Muslims might object to.

The very structure of the novel, its use of farce, and its frank and entertaining investigation of love and eroticism go against any fundamentalist or puritanical doctrine, be it Islamic or otherwise.

[...]

Although the book is not political, it is politically subversive, targeting a certain mentality and attitude.

Pezeshkzad's Dear Uncle Napoleon can only exercise his petty tyrannies within his own household, yet he also represents far grimmer dictators with much greater power to harm.

Sometimes it seemed to me when I still lived in Iran that My Uncle Napoleon predicted and articulated in farcical terms the mindset ruling over the Islamic Republic. Like all totalitarian systems, the Iranian government feeds and grows on paranoia. To justify its rule the regime had to replace reality with its own mythologies. The Islamic regime based its absurd justice on Uncle Napoleonic logic, destroying the lives of millions of Iranians through its laws, jailing and torturing and killing all imagined enemies and accusing them of being agents of the Great Satan, namely America and its allies. If Uncle Napoleon felt that the delay in his nephew's train was a British plot, the guardians of morality in Iran saw a woman's lipstick or a man's tie as props/accessories in an imperialist plot to destroy Islam.

[...]

To lie is a way of life, and it is justified because telling the truth has unpleasant and sometimes fatal consequences. Thus a community is created based on illusions and fantasies.

[...]

Although My Uncle Napoleon is highly critical of the society it depicts, it is also the best testament to the complexity, vitality, and flexibility of Iranian culture and society.

This review from The Seattle Times (Valerie Ryan, 5/5/2006) calls Napoleon's garden a "microcosm of the larger world." The Iranian government would probably not be delighted to hear themselves described as regularly "trembling with rage."


I was not able to find any list of banned books in Iran on the first page of Google results that included My Uncle Napoleon (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6).

Wikipedia, citing the "1988 Act of the Guidelines to Publish Books, by the Supreme Council of Cultural Revolution of Islamic Republic of Iran," lists several reasons why a book may be banned. The reasons cited above may fall under one or more of those reasons, specifically "mocking and weakening the national pride and nationalistic spirit," "renouncing the fundamentals of religion," and/or "creating an atmosphere of losing national values to the culture and civilization of western or eastern colonizing systems."

Renouncing the fundamentals of religion; promoting corruption; inviting the society to riot against Iran; promoting the ideas of terrorist and illegal groups and corrupted sects and defending monarchy; stimulating conflicts between the various ethnic or religious groups or creating problems in the unity of the society and the country; mocking and weakening the national pride and nationalistic spirit, and creating an atmosphere of losing national values to the culture and civilization of western or eastern colonizing systems.

For more information on the reasons for book censorship in Iran, see these Wikipedia articles and "Criteria for banned books in Iran."*


*Note: that article mentions, and links to, a list of 200 banned books that was given to a bookseller. That link is dead, and the Wayback Machine does not have a useful capture of that page.

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    "also talked about "love and eroticism" in a way that many puritanical Muslims might object to" - can you expand on this? Your quoted text doesn't say much about this aspect of the book. – Rand al'Thor Jun 7 '17 at 0:55
  • There's nothing in either article I quoted about that beyond the first paragraph in the block quotes. I thought that it was likely one reason (or part of the reason) for the ban, given the religious nature of the Revolution. – Shokhet Jun 7 '17 at 1:02
  • @Randal'Thor This answer has been updated with some new information. – Shokhet Jun 7 '17 at 19:11

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