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100 Essential Books by Iranian Writers: Graphic Novels, Culinary Books, & Children’s Literature

From visual treats to gastronomical gateways and books for young learners

[Editor’s Note: This week, we relaunch our monthly Bookmarks feature with a five-part series on 100 essential books by Iranian writers available in English, researched and curated by author and translator Niloufar Talebi. Read the introductory essay to the series and the first list of books here. Scroll down for today’s list of graphic novels and nonfiction, culinary books, children’s & YA lit.]


Graphic Novels and Nonfiction

We begin today’s list with a number of visual treats.

Abolqassem Ferdowsi

41. Shahnameh: The Epic of the Persian Kings by Abolqassem Ferdowsi, illustrated by Hamid Rahmanian, and translated from the Persian by Ahmad Sadri (Liveright; Illustrated and Slipcased edition, 2017)

The Shahnameh, completed in 1010 CE by Hakim Abolqassem Ferdowsi, is a classic poem in 50,000 couplets, part myth, part history beginning with the creation story of the Persian peoples and their tumultuous history up to the 7th century Arab invasion of Persia. It is the story of magical birds, superhuman heroes, and centuries-long battles. Ahmad Sadri’s translation and adaptation retells the tales in prose. The 500 + full-color illustrations in this edition were created from elements culled from thousands of manuscripts, lithographs, and miniatures dating from the thirteenth through the nineteenth centuries, with each panel becoming a new work of art, an exquisite collage of traditional forms. Rahmanian and Simon Arizp are the creators of the full color pop-up book, Zahhak: The Legend Of The Serpent King (Fantagraphics Books, 2018), winner of the 2018 Meggendorfer Prize for best pop-up book. The retelling of the myth from the Shahnameh of the misguided Prince Zahhak who is easily swayed by the devil to murder his father and usurp the throne springs to life in this ingeniously crafted pop-up book that will delight readers young and old. Rahmanian also created a shadow theater stage production based on a storyline in the Shahnameh, called Feathers of Fire, as well as an immersive audiobook version with an introduction by Frances Ford Coppola.

Dara Naraghi

42. Persia Blues, a series by Dara Naraghi and illustrator Brent Bowman: Leaving Home (Persia Blues #1) (NBM Publishing, 2013) and Love and War (Persia Blues #2) (2015)

The Persia Blues Book Series was nominated for the Great Graphic Novels for Teens 2014 award by the Young Adult Library Services Association. Minoo Shirazi is a rebellious young Iranian woman struggling to define herself amid the strict social conventions of an oppressive regime and the wishes of an overbearing father. She is also a free-spirited adventurer in a fantasy world, a place where aspects of modern America and ancient Persia meld into a unique landscape. Persia Blues explores the intersections of guilt and freedom, family and self, ancient myths and modern enigmas. Naraghi is also the author of other notable graphic novels including Lifelike, Terminator: Salvation, and Witch & Wizard: Battle for Shadowland.

Mana Neyestani

43. An Iranian Metamorphosis by Mana Neyestani, translated from the French by Ghazal Mosadeq (Uncivilized Books; First U.S. Edition edition, 2014)

An L.A. Times Book Prize Finalist and Shortlisted for the Cartoonist Studio Prize 2014. One of Mana Neyestani’s cartoons sparked riots in Iran, shuttered the newspaper he worked for, and landed the cartoonist and his editor in solitary confinement inside of Iran’s notorious Evin prison. He was given a temporary prison leave, during which he fled Iran with his wife. He ended up in exile in France where he published this autobiographical graphic novel about his time in prison, exposing the complex interplay between art, law, politics, ethnic sensitivities, and authoritarian elements inside of Iran’s Islamic Republic. Neyestani is the author of several other graphic novels.

Marjane Satrapi

44. The Complete Persepolis trilogy by Marjane Satrapi (Pantheon, 2007)

An immediate global phenomenon, this series tells the story of a girl whose childhood was disrupted by the Islamic Revolution and a teenager who navigated an entirely new world in Europe, through humor, images, and brutal observation. Persepolis captured the hearts of Iranians and Western audiences alike. Satrapi followed up Persepolis with other books including Embroideries and Chicken with Plums. She co-directed the graphic film version of Persepolis and directed Radioactive, a 2019 film about Marie Curie.

Bruce Bahmani

45. Rostam: Tales from the Shahnameh, a series by Robert Napton, Artistic Director Bruce Bahmani, and illustrator Karl Altstaetter (Hyperwerks, 2010, 1st edition, 2007)

The most action-packed sections from Ferdowsi’s 10th century book of poems—often regarded as the Iranian national epic—which traces the adventures of the mythic hero, Rostam, is reimagined as a comics series.


On to gastronomic gateways…

Atoosa Sepehr

46. From a Persian Kitchen: Authentic Recipes and Fabulous Flavours from Iran by Atoosa Sepehr (Robinson Press, 2019)

A former software engineer turned steel industry consultant turned accountant, Atoosa Sepehr turned her focus to photography and writing with this cookbook in order to stay connected with Iran. A photographic celebration of Iran, Sepehr offers both traditional recipes and her own. This book was an Irish Times Best Food Book of the Year.

Naz Deravian

47. Bottom of the Pot: Persian Recipes and Stories by Naz Deravian (Flatiron Books, 2018)

In her debut book, Naz Deravian weaves together 100 recipes with essays that make the political personal, and turns “recipes trickled down through cultural and familial osmosis” into exacting ones. Bottom of the Pot won the IACP 2019 First Book Award presented by The Julia Child Foundation.

Samin Nosrat

48. Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking by Samin Nosrat and illustrator Wendy MacNaughton (Simon and Schuster, 2017)

This rich, illustrated cookbook evolved from an essential guide for home chefs into a highly popular Netflix docu-series. Rather than just providing recipes to follow, Nosrat breaks down the elements of cooking to give readers the basics of cooking science. Nosrat is a regular “eat” columnist for the New York Times Magazine, and actively promotes the work of other chefs. Nosrat and MacNaughton are at work on a second book called, What to Cook.

Yasmin Khan

49. The Saffron Tales: Recipes From the Persian Kitchen by Yasmin Khan (Bloomsbury USA, 2016)

A lawyer, human rights activist, and journalist, Yasmin Khan brings all her reporting skills to this book. She travels across Iran, from the markets of Tabriz to the cafes of Tehran, to unearth a variety of dishes and stories. She received the M.F.K Fisher Award for Excellence in Culinary Writing from Les Dames d’Escoffier, and her book was recognized as a New York Times Best Cookbooks of the Year, Wall Street Journal Best Cookbooks of the Year, and BBC Food Programme Best Cookbooks of the Year.

Najmieh Batmanglij

50. Food of Life: Ancient Persian and Modern Iranian Cooking and Ceremonies by Najmieh Batmanglij (Mage Publishers; 25th Anniversary Edition edition, 2011)

This book is a mini cultural tour of Iran that includes literary excerpts. It provides 330 classical and regional Iranian recipes as well as an introduction to Persian art, history, and culture, and is an immersive cultural experience for those seeking to understand this ancient and timeless cuisine. Batmanglij is the author of numerous other titles including Joon, A Taste of Persia: An Introduction to Persian Cooking, Silk Road Cooking: A Vegetarian Journey, and Happy Nowruz: Cooking with Children to Celebrate the Persian New Year. Ottolenghi calls her “The goddess of Iranian cooking.” This 25th-anniversary edition is a more user-friendly edition of the award-winning and critically acclaimed cookbook series which began in 1986. 

Children’s and Young Adult Literature

Titles for a well-rounded education for young learners.

Melissa Bashardoust

51. Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust (Flatiron, 2020)

Girl, Serpent, Thorn is “an alluring feminist fairy tale” (Kirkus Reviews) about a girl cursed to be poisonous to the touch and who discovers what power might lie in such a curse. As the day of her twin brother’s wedding approaches, Soraya must decide if she’s willing to step outside of the shadows for the first time. Below in the dungeon is a demon who holds the answer to her freedom. And above is a young man who isn’t afraid of her. Soraya thought she knew her place in the world, but when her choices lead to consequences she never imagined, she begins to question who she is and who she is becoming. Human or demon. Princess or monster. Bashardoust is also the author of Girls Made of Snow and Glass.

Arsia Rozegar

52. Shahnameh For Kids: The Bravery of Gordafarid by Arsia Rozegar, illustrated by Mike Amante (Shahnameh For Kids, 2020)

An empowering ancient Persian tale inspired by Ferdowsi’s 10th century epic poem, The Shahnameh. When the brash warrior Sohraub and his army lay siege to the White Fortress, it’s up to a lone heroine known as Gordafarid to find the courage to defend her people. Will she have what it takes to stop the mighty Sohraub? Rozegar and Amante have also authored The Story of Zal & SimorghThe Mighty Rostam, and The Shahnameh Coloring & Activity Book.

Arvin Ahmadi

53. Down and Across by Arvin Ahmadi (Penguin Books; Reprint edition, 2019)

Scott Ferdowsi is at a pivotal moment in his life when he runs away to seek guidance from a famous psychologist who claims to know the secret to success and meets a woman whose life ambition is to write crossword puzzles, which sets him on adventures he could never have dreamed of.

Sara Farizan

54. Here to Stay by Sara Farizan (Algonquin Young Readers, 2019)

A Booklist Top 10 Sports Book for Youth. Bijan Majidi gets pulled off the bench to make the winning basket in a varsity playoff but then a school cyberbully sends an anonymous photo making him look like a terrorist. Sara Farizan’s debut novel, If You Could Be Mine (a Rolling Stone’s 40 Best YA Novel), tells the story of a young girl in Iran who falls deeply in love with her best friend. In her second novel, Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel, the main character struggles to fit in as an immigrant and as a queer teen. Farizan won the Lambda Literary Award for LGBTQ Children’s/Young Adult fiction.

Adib Khorram

55. Darius the Great Is Not Okay by Adib Khorram (Penguin Book, Reprint Edition, 2019)

Named one of TIME magazine’s 10 Best Young Adult and Children’s Books of the Year, this book about grappling with mental illness, identity, and one’s place in the world is for anyone who’s ever felt not good enough but meets a friend who makes them feel so much better.

Nioucha Homayoonfar

56. Taking Cover: One Girl’s Story of Growing Up During the Iranian Revolution by Nioucha Homayoonfar (National Geographic Children’s Books, 2019)

Homayoonfar tells the autobiographical story of a young girl who moves from the United States back to Tehran in 1976, taking a less-trodden path. Just in time for the revolution, Nioucha has to adjust to the abrupt cultural changes the revolution brings.

Sara Saedi

57. Americanized: Rebel Without a Green Card by Sara Saedi (Ember, Reprint edition, 2019)

A TV writer, an Emmy-winner, and now a young adult novelist, Sara Saedi tells the story of being undocumented in America through humor and brutal honesty. A toddler when her family moved from Iran after the revolution, it wasn’t until she was 13 that Sara learned that she was undocumented, which didn’t mean she wasn’t still a teenager obssessed with all things pop culture and whether she would be the only one without a prom date. The book is in development as a television series from Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine production company and ABC studios.

Abdi Nazemian

58. Like a Love Story by Abdi Nazemian (Balzer + Bray, 2019)

This book about friendship and the courage of coming out is called “a love letter to queerness.” In 1989, Reza is a teenager in New York. He knows he’s gay, but all he knows of gay life are the media’s images of men dying of AIDS. He starts dating Judy, but struggles to find a way out of his deception that won’t break Judy’s heart—and destroy the most meaningful friendship he’s ever known. Nazemian is also the author of The Walk-In Closet, which won the Lambda Literary Award for LGBT Debut Fiction, and The Authentics.

Samad Behrangi

59. The Little Black Fish by Samad Behrangi, translated from the Persian by Azita Rassi, illustrations by Farshid Mesghali (Tiny Owl Publishing; Translation Edition, 2019)

Samad Behrangi was a teacher, folklorist, translator, and short story writer of Iranian-Azerbaijani origin who taught in the rural areas of Azerbaijan, familiarizing villagers and children with books. He wrote pedagogical essays and collected Azerbaijani oral literature. Behrangi’s other stories include the Ulduz stories, Talkhoon, and One Peach, One Thousand Peaches. He is most well-known for his 1968 work, The Little Black Fish, a story for all ages, recognized as an allegory for children to explore the world and discover truths for themselves. What happens when you swim against the current? That’s the question at the heart of this book, which follows the little black fish on a journey from his stream to the sea. The story is made more poignant by the fact that it was written in the 1960’s as an allegory for daring to hold different political views by an author whose early death was laid at the door of the regime. The Little Black Fish has been translated into several other languages. This edition contains the illustrations of its original illustrator, Farshid Mesghali, who won several awards for them including the Hans Christian Andersen Award in 1974. 

Collage of book covers
Rashin Kheiriyeh

60. Saffron Ice Cream by Rashin Kheiriyeh (Scholastic Inc., 2018)

With 80 published books under her belt, as well as a scroll of other achievements, Rashin Kheiriyeh reveals a snippet of her own life in Saffron Ice Cream. Through bright oil and acrylic paints on handmade paper, she tells two stories of a day at the beach: In the American tale, the young girl overcomes her sadness of not finding saffron ice cream and learns to embrace chocolate crunch. Kheiriyeh has won the Sendak Fellowship Award, and was the character artist of the most popular Iranian animation series called Sugarland/Shekarestan for national TV in Iran.

Firoozeh Dumas

61. It Ain’t So Awful, Falafel by Firoozeh Dumas (Clarion Books, 2017)

Zomorod Yousefzadeh is the new kid on the block…for the fourth time. She’s determined to shuck her brainy loner persona and start afresh with a new Brady Bunch name—Cindy. It’s the late 1970s, and fitting in becomes more difficult as Iran makes U.S. headlines with protests, revolution, and finally the taking of American hostages. A poignant yet lighthearted middle grade debut from the author of the best-selling Funny in Farsi. Accolades for this book include: A California Library Association’s John and Patricia Beatty Award Winner, a Florida Sunshine State Young Readers Award (Grades 6–8), a New York Historical Society’s New Americans Book Prize Winner, a Middle East Book Award for Youth Literature, Honorable Mention, and a Booklist 50 Best Middle Grade Novels of the 21st Century. 

<< Day One: Introduction + Nonfiction
< Day Two: Poetry, Hybrid Works, Anthologies

Day Four: Classics in Translation >
Day Five: Fiction >>