Set in a garden in Tehran in the early 1940s, where three families live under the tyranny of a paranoid patriarch, My Uncle Napoleon is a rich, comic and brilliantly on-target send-up of Iranian society. The novel is, at its core, a love story. But the young narrator's delicate and pure love for his cousin Layli is constantly jeopardized by an unforgettable cast of family members and the hilarious mayhem of their intrigues and machinations. It is also a social satire, a lampooning of the widespread Iranian belief that foreigners (particularly the British) are responsible for events that occurs in Iran. But most of all it is a very enjoyable, often side-splitting read that you wish did not have to end. First published in Iran in the early 1970s, the novel became an all-time best-seller. In 1976 it was turned into a television series and immediately captured the imagination of the whole nation-its story became a cultural reference point and its characters national icons. Dick Davis' superb English translation has not only captured the uproarious humor of the original but has also caught the delicate, underlying vibrancy of the Persian.
(11) In which the British invade, and Dear Uncle Napoleon decides to take a journey.
(12) In which Dear Uncle Napoleon writes a letter to Hitler, and Asadollah Mirza begins to teach the narrator about life.
(13) In which Dear Uncle Napoleon gets rid of a photographer, Qamar makes an unexpected announcement, and Dustali Khan is shot.
(14) In which Dustali Khan makes a will, a shoeshine man sets out his stall, and there are worries about uncle colonel's son, Puri.
(15) In which a bridegroom is proposed for Qamar, and the shoeshine man is arrested.
(16) In which negotiations for Qamar's marriage proceed, and the shoeshine man is released.
(17) In which Cadet Officer Ghiasabadi's mother and sister pay a formal visit.
(18) In which Qamar is married, the narrator and Puri fight, and Dear Uncle's cellars are flooded.
(19) In which the narrator's father throws a party for Qamar and her husband.
(20) In which it its proposed that Puri be given a test, and Mash Qasem visits the narrator's school.
(21) In which Akhtar gives Puri his test, the narrator takes a firm decision, and Dear Uncle Napoleon's health deteriorates.
(22) In which Dear Uncle Napoleon accuses Mash Qasem of treachery, and Asadollah Mirza and the narrator's father decide a plan.
(23) In which Dear Uncle Napoleon receives a visitor.
(24) In which Dustali Khan and his son-in-law lay their differences before Dear Uncle Napoleon, revelations are made, and the narrator's prospects look bleak.
(25) In which Dear Uncle Napoleon receives more visitors and is taken to the hospital, and Asadollah Mirza has a long chat with the narrator.
In which everyone's fate is summarized
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One hot summer day, to be precise, one Friday the thirteenth of August, at about a quarter to three in the afternoon, I fell in love. The bitterness and longing I've been through since have often made me wonder whether if it had been the twelfth or the fourteenth of August things would have turned out differently.
That day, as on every day, they had compelled us-meaning me and my sister-by force and threats and a few golden promises for the evening to go into the cellar in order to sleep. In the savage heat of Tehran an afternoon siesta was compulsory for all the children. But on that day, as on every other afternoon, we were just waiting for my father to fall asleep so that we could go into the yard to play. When my father's snores became audible I stuck my head out from under the coverlet and glanced at the clock on the wall. It was half past two in the afternoon. In waiting for my father to go off, my poor little sister had fallen asleep herself. I'd no choice but to leave her and I tiptoed out alone.
Layli, my uncle's daughter, and her little brother had been waiting in the main garden for us for half an hour. Our two houses had been built within one big enclosure and there was no wall between them. As on every day, we settled down quietly to our games and conversation in the shade of a big walnut tree. And then I happened to catch Layli's eye. A pair of wide black eyes looked back at me. I couldn't tear my gaze away from hers. I've no idea how long we'd been staring at each other when suddenly my mother appeared standing over us with a little multi-thonged whip in her hand. Layli and her brother ran off to their house and my mother drove me into the cellar and under the coverlet, threatening me as she did so. Before my head was completely hidden under the coverlet I looked across at the clock on the wall; it was ten to three in the afternoon. Before she in turn put her head under the coverlet my mother said, "Thank God your uncle didn't wake up, because if he had, he'd have torn you all to pieces."
My mother was right. Dear Uncle (as we called him) was very particular about the orders he gave. He'd given an order that before five o'clock in the afternoon the children weren't so much as to breathe. Within the four walls of that garden it wasn't only we children who had learned what not sleeping in the afternoon and making a noise during Dear Uncle's siesta meant; the crows and pigeons appeared in the garden much less often because Dear Uncle had taken a hunting rifle to them a few times and effected a general slaughter. The street vendors of our area didn't go through our street, which was named after Dear Uncle, till five o'clock, because three or four times the man who came by on his donkey selling melons and onions had been slapped by Dear Uncle.
But that day my brain was working overtime and the name of Dear Uncle didn't put me in mind of his rages and bad temper. I couldn't get free of the memory of Layli's eyes and of her gaze even for a moment, and no matter how much I tossed and turned and how much I tried to think of something else, I saw her black eyes, brighter than if she were really there in front of me.
That night, underneath the mosquito net, Layli's eyes came after me once more. I hadn't seen her again that evening, but her eyes and her beguiling gaze were there.
I don't know how much time passed. Suddenly a weird thought seized my whole brain, "God forbid, I've fallen in love with Layli!"
About the Translator
Dick Davis was born to English and Italian parents in 1945 and educated at King's College, Cambridge (B.A. and M.A. in English Literature). In 1970 while pursuing a career in poetry and literature and teaching in Greece he visited a friend in Iran. While there, he fell ill and was nursed to health by a Persian woman, whom he eventually married. Davis fell in love with the country as well, and stayed for eight years, learning Persian and teaching at the University of Tehran. After the revolution in 1979 the Davis family returned to England where he pursued his love of the Persian language, earning his Ph.D. in Medieval Persian Literature from the University of Manchester.Since then, he has emerged as the foremost translator of Persian as well as having published numerous volumes of his own poetry to critical acclaim, including: Touchwood. A New Kind of Love, Devices and Desires, and Covenant. He is currently professor of Persian at Ohio State University and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. His other translations from Persian include the Fathers and Sons: Stories from the Shahnameh of Ferdowsi, Vol. II (Mage, 1999), Borrowed Ware (Mage, 1997), My Uncle Napoleon (Mage, 1996), The Legend of Seyavash(Mage 2004) and with Afkham Darbandi, The Conference of the Birds (Penguin Classics, 1984). He has also written a groundbreaking analysis of the Shahnameh, Epic and Sedition.