cover image My Uncle Napoleon

My Uncle Napoleon

Iraj Pezeshkzad, Iraj Pizishkzad. Mage Publishers, $29.95 (512pp) ISBN 978-0-934211-48-2

The obsessions of Dear Uncle Napoleon, as Pezeshkzad's eponymous Iranian patriarch is nicknamed, furnish this epic, episodic farce with a multitude of mock heroic elements: the ""centuries old"" honor of his petty aristocratic family; the propriety of his distant relatives; the care of his prize sweetbrier; his mythologized exploits in a Cossack regiment; his hero-worship of Bonaparte; and, above all, his paranoia about English international intrigue on his doorstop. Dear Uncle's extended family's antics don't so much distract him as exacerbate his eccentricities with each new misunderstanding, private feud, clandestine affair and arranged marriage. Told from the naive perspective of Dear Uncle's least-favorite nephew (who is chastely, adolescently in love with his daughter), Pezeshkzad's tale, first published in Iran in the early 1970s, seems innocently obsolete after the Iranian Revolution, like Wodehouse after the Blitz, with its comedy relying heavily on conventions--verbal tics, frenetic dialogue, farcical action and acrobatic reversals of fortune. Pezeshkzad supplies an instantly recognizable, universal cast: the foolish family retainer (the Sancho Panza to Dear Uncle's Quixote), the worldly and womanizing uncle, the disgruntled brother-in-law, the officious local police officer, the brawny butcher with an attractive younger wife. While such characters made the novel a huge bestseller and a national touchstone for comic types in Iran, they don't make the best international travelers, and stateside readers may have trouble discerning, or caring about, how they satirize specific elements of Iranian society. (July)