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Posted on Mon, Sep. 24, 2007

Publishers finding Iran is a hot read

Fear? Curiosity? Shelves are full of Persian themes.

By Carlin Romano

Inquirer Book Critic

At Columbia University today, the main course offering will be fireworks - Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is stopping by to speak.

Protesters and security will be everywhere. Debate should be fierce. And the verbal fireworks will be sparked by the question of the "Iranian Bomb."

But an Iranian explosion has already taken place in the United States - just browse through your local bookstore.

There's scare-you nonfiction like The Iranian Time Bomb: The Mullah Zealots' Quest for Destruction, by Michael Ledeen and The Iran Threat: President Ahmadinejad and the Coming Nuclear Crisis by Alireza Jafarzadeh; historical overviews such as Mark Bowden's Guests of the Ayatollah; novels by Iranians and Iranian Americans such as Caspian Rain by Gina B. Nahai and Sons and Other Flammable Objects by Porochista Khakpour; and a seemingly endless stream of memoirs by Iranian American women, such as My Name is Iran by Davar Ardalan and Persian Girls by Nahid Rachlin.

[ ... ]

A major catalyst of the recent wave of books on Iran was a critically acclaimed 2003 book by Azar Nafisi, a professor at Johns Hopkins University.

"Publishing a lot of memoirs by Iranian women," Nahai said, "has been driven by the success of Reading Lolita in Tehran."

Reading Lolita not only drove the appetite for memoirs by women, but had the side effect of pumping the market for all Iran books.

In fact, the volume of Iran-theme volumes now results in some internecine battles among Iranian and Iranian American authors. For instance, Hamid Dabashi, a professor of Iranian studies at Columbia and author of Iran: A People Interrupted , has criticized Reading Lolita in Tehran for supposedly giving support to Bush administration policies toward Iran, a view that infuriates Zanganeh.

"Azar Nafisi is not a neocon," Zanganeh said. Iranians, she said, "can be liberals" yet still "violently oppose," as she does, the current Iranian regime and its pursuit of a nuclear weapon.

She is utterly against the decision of her alma mater, Columbia, to grant Ahmadinejad a forum today.

[ ... ]

Zanganeh, who was born in Paris and originally came to the United States to teach French literature at Harvard, is working on a book that relates to Russian novelist Vladimir Nabokov and the possibility of happiness.

"I joke to friends that I'm consciously trying to avoid the word Iran," she said.

Contact book critic Carlin Romano at 215-854-5615.


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