This month we will be reading a book set in Iran in the buildup to the revolution: House of the Mosque by Kader Abdolah.
This is from the Independent's review of the book:
"Unlike various realist accounts of this watershed historical moment that have recently appealed to the West (Azar Nafisi's Reading Lolita in Tehran; Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis) Abdolah's is a semi-mythical narrative (not unlike his previous book, My Father's Notebook) not quite magical realism but bearing a 'flying carpet' element of fantasy: there is a host of anthropomorphic animals - the mosque's knowing cats, a resident crow with Cassandra caws of impending doom, a plague of ants defeated by prayer - and two silver-haired servants known as 'the grandmothers' who appear to have been resurrected from Persian fable. The counterpoint to this enchanting (and unabashedly sentimental) Arabian Nights aspect is the horrifying realities faced by Aqa Jaan's family, which worsen as the revolution progresses. Sons are tortured, daughters married to radical imams, false confessions are secured and informers rewarded.
The myth-making extends to Abdolah's abundant use of spiritual imagery. The novel opens with the same, mystical words that begin the Quran: "alif, laam, mim" (letters of the Arabic alphabet) believed to unlock the mysteries of the universe if correctly decoded. He also translates its verses or 'surahs' creatively, with some elided into others, and in a way that extracts their essence as devotional poems, not unbending edicts. In so doing, he forces a conceptual separation between the reductive, fanatical streak of Islam revealing itself on the streets of Iran, and the open-ended, poetic nature of Quranic verse.
Undercutting religion is an irrepressible eroticism: couples make love atop the holiest corners of a minaret; love poetry is hotly whispered in bedrooms; when Aqa Jaan finds a verse by a progressive Tehrani female poet, he finds her words profane, yet begs his wife to recite them, amorously, to him: "Here are my lips, My neck and burning burning breasts. Here is my soft body!"
Abdolah's juxtapositions - the spiritual and the earthly, myth and reality - give the story a powerful irony. Khomeini is, in 1979, a hero, we are reminded, before he becomes the villain. He offers Iran salvation from the tyrannical whimsies of the Shah. By the end, the freedom fighters are the new tyrants. Abdolah lathers the story with an almost deliberate nostalgia, choosing not to drive recent history into the present day. Instead, he presents just the nascent phases of the revolution and the wide-eyed innocence of those, such as Aqa Jaan, who held such high hopes for all it could have been."
You can here a discussion about the book here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00q07gv