Amir Hassan Sheltan’s novel “Love in Cairo”

yEvery morning he studies the newspapers of the unknown Iranian ambassador 1947 in Cairo. In the midst of turbulent times of turmoil, he is supposed to carry out two missions of a semi-private nature: to bring Queen Fossia back from her homeland to Tehran for her husband, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, whom he has married for eight years, and finally to arrange the transportation of the body of the Shah’s father who died three years ago in Johannesburg and was stored Temporarily in the Egyptian capital since then.

Amir Hassan Sheltan, born in 1956, is a sensitive observer of conditions and developments in Iran, as evidenced by his articles for this newspaper collected with others in the volume “Tehran Kiosk”. In literary terms, the less openly he dealt with the overthrow of the Shah, the better. It is no coincidence that the novel “The Calligrapher of Isfahan” is his best novel, which, of course, also speaks a lot about the present. Sheltan’s new novel, Love in Cairo, now sheds light on the early years after the Shah’s accession to the throne.

European: savage?

Once again Cheheltan uses the historical framework to comment on current conditions. Sometimes he’s not squeamish: the ambassador has his eye on Sakina, an American who converted to Islam, but broke up with her as soon as he slept with her. Her husband, the Indian philosopher, has a clear attitude to the West: “The European is a savage, a thief who acts like the crown of creation, the best that the universe has to offer.” A clever distortion, as if he put the words on the lips of the Egyptian prime minister: “I learned that the Iranian government prevented a planned demonstration in Tehran in favor of the Palestinian Arabs.”

Amir Hassan Sheltan:

Amir Hassan Sheltan: “Love in Cairo”. a novel. Translated from the Persian Guetta Himmelrich. Verlag CH Beck, Munich 2022. 380 p., hardcover, €25.

Image: Publisher

Central moments in this novel are the questions of how individual states will act towards Palestine and the Israel that will be established, whether and how they tolerate Judaism, how they stand against it, and what state dress they prefer for themselves. A number of Arab countries have been in their infancy since World War I, and Egypt will leave the monarchy in a few years, while the Mufti of Jerusalem, speaking to the ambassador, firmly stated: “Democracy and parliaments are not ours.” And it is possible that Sheltan aims not only at the past, but He also has current memory antecedents.


This leads to the problem of this novel, poor tale and gossip. The translation was done again by Jutta Himmelreich and thus ensures a “smooth” reading. The ironic predicate does the rest. The nameless ambassador, so bored with everything that is happening in the world, gets to a point in every conversation where he can say, “I have another question,” that is, how does the other person feel about Fusya. The man is a successful personality when it comes to showing the non-committal nature of his diplomacy and private life. His lust for action can undoubtedly be read as a reflection of individual nations’ desire for power. But in many cases, Sheltan seems to have no concept in this novel. Precisely because he puts plain words into the mouths of individual characters, hesitation in the dramaturgy at other points is almost like a grumble. The Shah remains in the background quite pale, and there is hardly anything that indicates – directly or negatively previously – why the downfall of this man should become a major theme in contemporary Iranian literature.

Chiltan chose a difficult path as a writer. After spending a longer period abroad due to the repression, he now lives and works in Iran. Censorship still affects him. “Love in Cairo” deals with the relationship between the Muslim and Jewish world against the backdrop of the looming Cold War. This is very explosive and subjective, but it didn’t quite work out from a literary point of view. Whoever reads the novel as a non-fiction book, considers it a stimulus to deal with the times and the problems it acquires. If you don’t, you might be wondering why Sheltan is so keen on telling the story of an ambassador who failed across the board.

Amir Hassan Sheltan: “Love in Cairo”. a novel. Translated from the Persian Guetta Himmelrich. Verlag CH Beck, Munich 2022. 380 pages, hardcover, €25.

Leave a Comment