Brief Reviews

by Pheobe-Lou Adams

My Uncle Napoleon

by Iraj Pezeshkzad,
translated by Dick Davis.
Mage, 514 pages, $29.95.

If one came upon this novel with none of the prefatory information provided by Dick Davis, one would be amazed that such a giddily uproarious mixture of farce and slapstick could be published in dourly pious Iran. The explanation is simple. It was published in the days of the Shah, was enormously popular, became a great success as a television series, and continues to be widely and happily read. Mr. Davis compares it to P. G. Wodehouse's Bertie Wooster stories and to Anita Loos's Gentlemen Prefer Blondes as a fantastic, satirical exaggeration of social circumstances that do exist. The nameless teenage narrator is, like the rest of his extended family, afflicted by the self-appointed patriarch known privately as Dear Uncle Napoleon. The old boy is a devoted admirer of Bonaparte and has come to imagine that he himself is a formidable enemy of the British, who are bent on revenge against him for activities that actually amounted to no more than firing "a few bullets at a couple of footloose bandits during Mohammad Ali Shah's reign." Disrespect for Uncle's delusions sets off a family row of stupendous intricacy and absurdity. It begins with social status, water supplies, small brawls, the police, money, a mouse, and a sweetbrier bush--and proceeds into chaos. The novel is funny in an uninhibited, larger-than-life style seldom practiced today, but readers with no memory of Iranian history before the Second World War will do well to consult the glossary before embarking on the text, for Uncle Napoleon's paranoia does have a connection, however feeble, with reality.

Becoming Modern:
The Life of Mina Loy

by Carolyn Burke.
Farrar, Straus & Giroux,
494 pages, $35.00.

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Mina Loy (1882-1966) was the daughter of a Hungarian Jew who prospered in the men's-clothing trade in Britain. There he married an English rose who developed into such a thornbush that nothing their daughter Mina subsequently did can be considered unreasonable. She began as an art student, joined avant-garde groups in Paris, and exhibited with some success. She also married, by mistake, an Englishman who dragged her off to Florence. She became an associate of the Futurist movement. She wrote poetry that impressed Ezra Pound and other members of the developing modernist school. By 1916, when she arrived in New York, Loy had a considerable reputation as a "new woman." She was an artist, a poet, and an individualist who had mislaid a husband and left two children behind in Italy. She was also a notable beauty--never an impediment in attracting public notice. Ms. Burke has done extremely well in describing the variety of distinguished people Loy knew and in chronicling the cultural disputes in which they engaged, making her book as much a history of early-twentieth-century aesthetics as it is a biography of a woman who took part in all the turmoil.

The Lost Lunar
Baedeker

by Mina Loy.
Farrar, Straus & Giroux,
238 pages, $19.00.

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Roger L. Conover, the editor of this collection of Loy's poetry plus a few prose pieces, warns that she "is not for everyone. . . . if her poems do not immediately repel, they possess." That is a fair assessment, but readers interested in the wilder shores of poetic experiment will find Loy worth their attention.

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