To understand Iran and its culture, there’s no better place to start than with Abolqasem Ferdowsi. Sultan Mahmud of Ghazni sought Ferdowsi to write the glory of Persian history and the Shahmameh (Book of Kings), was born. Much like ancient Greek literature, this epic poem tells the mythical tales of Iran’s history and creation through tragic love stories, wars, villains and heroes. It has been credited with preserving Iranian culture and the Persian language. Reading this fast-paced tome will not only give your trip to Iran a whole new meaning, but it will earn you the instant and eternal respect of every Iranian you meet.
Born in Rasht, Marjane Satrapi grew up in Tehran and moved to Vienna as a teenager before settling in Paris in 1997. Her life in Iran amid the political turbulence of the Revolution of 1979 and subsequent immigration to Europe became the subject matter of her beloved black and white graphic novels, Persepolis. These funny and moving novels have received a lot of global recognition and were also adapted into a full-length animated film.
Born in 1921, Simin Daneshvar is credited with many firsts as a female writer in Iran: the first novelist, the first to publish short stories and the first to translate her work. Her husband was the famous writer, Jalal al-Ahmad, who she is said to have influenced greatly. Her collection of short stories, Atash-e Khamoosh, gained her some recognition, but her greatest work was above all Savushun, the story of a family in Shiraz and their struggles during the Second World War.
Historian and author Nina Ansary is perhaps most widely known for her work on gender equality in Iran. Her collection of essays, which analyze using modern interpretations of the Koran to support women’s freedom, was published in the Daily Beast. She has received a lot of recognition, including being selected as one of the ‘Five Iranian Women Visionaries You Need to Know’ and the ‘6 Women Who Build Bridges – Not Walls’ by Women in the World. Her book, Jewels of Allah, examines the role of women’s rights in pre- and post-revolution Iran and profiles over 100 awe-inspiring women.
Iraj Pezeshkzad was born in Tehran and educated in both Iran and France. His law degree allowed him to serve as a judge and diplomat before he took a different path. His writing career began in the 1950s by translating French literature and writing short stories of his own. His 1973 novel, My Uncle Napoleon, a satire about three families living under a patriarchic figure during the Second World War, earned him wide acclaim and was later adapted into a TV series.
Born in Turkey, Marjan Kamali has spent her life all over the globe in countries like Kenya, Germany, Turkey, Iran, Switzerland, Australia and the US. Her debut novel, Together Tea, is the heart-warming love story between a mother and daughter, Darya and Mina. In addition to this moving novel being translated into five languages, Marjan’s work has been chosen as a finalist in several literary contests, broadcasted on BBC Radio 4 and published in two anthologies.
Jalal al-Ahmad was the husband of renowned writer, Simin Daneshvar, and a prominent novelist, translator and philosopher. Though he studied Persian literature, he was also influenced by Western philosophers, such as Jean-Paul Sartre. He is credited with popularizing the Persian term for “westoxification” and wrote the book, Occidentosis, a critique in which he argued western technology was doing away with traditional industries in Iran. Many of his novels and short stories have been translated into English.
Azar Nafisi was born in Tehran and raised there until she was a teenager, at which time she moved to Europe. After receiving her Ph.D. in English and American literature, she returned to Iran in 1979 where she taught these literary works at the University of Tehran and later, to a group of her female students in her home. In 1997, she left Iran for the US and published her most famous work, Reading Lolita in Tehran, a memoir of this experience living and working in Iran and holding these weekly discussion sessions.
Sadegh Hedayat is one of the greatest Iranian authors of the 20th century. Known for his use of modernism in Persian fiction, Hedayat’s collective works were inspired by Western literature and Iranian history. His most famous novel, The Blind Owl, uses recurrent symbols to explore the emotional darkness an Iranian scholar feels due to isolation between himself and the rest of society.
Born in Isfahan, Dina Nayeri immigrated to the US when she was 10 years-old. She holds undergraduate and graduate degrees from Princeton and Harvard, respectively. Her first novel, A Teaspoon of Earth and Sea, tells the touching story of Saba, a young girl separated from her mother and twin sister, who uses her imagination and love of the west to save herself from despair. Refuge, her second novel, was published in 2017.