My Uncle Napoleon
English translation first edition hardcover book cover
|Original title||دایی جان ناپلئون
Da'i-i jan Napuli'un
|Media type||Print hardcover|
|LC Class||PK6561.P54 D313 1996|
My Uncle Napoleon (Persian: دایی جان ناپلئون, Dâ'i jân Nâpol'on, literal translation: Dear Uncle Napoleon) is a coming of age novel by Iranian author Iraj Pezeshkzad published in Tehran in Persian in 1973. The novel was adapted to a highly successful TV series in 1976 directed by Nasser Taghvai. Though the book and the TV series were briefly banned following the Islamic revolution of 1979 in Iran, it remained popular (Nafisi 2006) and is often regarded as "the most important and well-loved work of Iranian fiction since World War II" (Ryan 2006). It is noted for its lampooning of the widespread Iranian belief that the English are responsible for events that occur in Iran. The novel has been translated by Dick Davis into English.
The story takes place at the time of Iran's occupation by the Allied Forces during World War II. Most of the plot occurs in the narrator's home, a huge early 20th-century-style Iranian mansion in which three wealthy families live under the tyranny of a paranoid patriarch Uncle. The Uncle—who in reality is a retired low-level officer from the Persian Cossack Brigade under Colonel Vladimir Liakhov's command—claims, and in latter stages of the story actually believes that he and his butler Mash Qasem were involved in wars against the British Empire and their lackeys such as Khodadad Khan, as well as battles supporting the Iranian Constitutional Revolution; and that with the occupation of Iran by the Allied Forces, the English are now on course to take revenge on him. The story's narrator (nameless in the novel but called Saeed in the TV series) is a high school student in love with his cousin Layli who is Dear Uncle's daughter. The story revolves around the narrator's struggles to stall Layli's pre-arranged marriage to her cousin Puri, while the narrator's father and Dear Uncle plot various mischiefs against each other to settle past family feuds. A multitude of supporting characters, including police investigators, government officials, housewives, a medical doctor, a butcher, a sycophantic preacher, servants, a shoeshine man, and an Indian or two provide various entertaining sequences throughout the development of the story.
Literary significance and reception
My Uncle Napoleon was written by Iraj Pezeshkzad and published in 1973. Loosely based on the author's real life experiences and his love for the daughter of a wealthy aristocrat, the story instantly became a cultural reference point and its characters national icons of the '70s. The novel was translated in 1996 to English by Dick Davis and published by Mage Publishers, a translation that manages to evoke the richness of the original text and is faithful without being literal (Asayesh 1996). The English translation has since been re-published by Random House in 2006 with an introduction by Azar Nafisi and an afterword by the author, Iraj Pezeshkzad.
The novel is a representation of the Iranian society of the 1940s. The garden in which the story takes place, "in more ways than one becomes a microcosm of modern Iranian society" (Nafisi 2006). The novel, at its core a love story, unfolds around the young narrator' love for his cousin Layli, a love which is constantly jeopardized by an army of family members and the mayhem of their intrigues and machinations.
Adaptation as a TV series
|My Uncle Napoleon
دایی جان ناپلئون
My Uncle Napoleon title screen
|Created by||Iraj Pezeshkzad|
|Directed by||Nasser Taghvai|
|Narrated by||Houshang Latifpour|
|Country of origin||Iran|
|No. of episodes||18|
|Executive producer(s)||Nasser Taghvai
|Camera setup||16mm film|
|Running time||45 minutes|
|Original network||National Iranian Radio and Television|
|Original release||1976 – 1976|
In 1976, director Nasser Taghvai turned the novel into a legendary mini TV series, compiling the story in 18 episodes. The series was a huge success both with the audience and the critics. It topped the ratings in every airing of its episodes and it was the most watched show when it aired on Friday nights. Many consider the series to be an ageless masterpiece and the father of modern television comedy in Iran. Many terms coined during the series' run have become part of Persian popular culture. The series was a huge success financially, the production cost has been estimated to be 50 million Rials (equivalent to U$770,000 in 1976) while the broadcaster paid about 200 million Rials, four times the production cost, to buy the rights for broadcasting the series. Due to its extreme popularity, reruns of the series were frequent in the National Iranian Radio and Television until the Islamic revolution of 1979. Although the series has been banned in Iran since the revolution it is still watched. The series has been released on DVD by Pars Video, Taraneh Records, and Chehreh Nama.
Cast and crew
Nasser Taghvai .... producer
Amir Farrokh Tehrani
Abdollah Eskandari .... makeup artist
Mohsen Taghvai .... assistant director
Valod Aghajanian, Yadollah Asgari, Hassan Zahedi
English translation publication history
My Uncle Napoleon is central to a film[which?] shown on BBC4 about relationships between Britain and Iran.