Ayatollah Khamenei – #AvidReader of novels and poetry?

The Supreme Leader of Iran shares his literary passions on Twitter. His favorite authors include Soviet writers Mikhail Sholokhov and Alexei Tolstoy.

Ebrahim Noroozi/AP
An Iranian man holds a portrait of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei during a rally in Tehran. Khamenei professes himself an 'avid reader' of fiction.

Supreme leader of Iran, Shia cleric – novel reader?

Yes, it turns out the Supreme leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, enjoys kicking back with a good read, just like the rest of us.

Mr. Khamenei recently revealed his secret passion in a series of tweets on his very own Twitter account, @khamenei_ir, declaring himself an #AvidReader.

"I've read many novels and poems," the 75-year-old religious leader told his 100,000-plus Twitter followers.

Tough to imagine Iran's supreme leader relaxing with "Pride and Prejudice," or "Romeo and Juliet?"

That's because his favored literature is more ... revolutionary in nature.

In a series of tweets, Khamenei said his favorite authors include Soviet writers Mikhail Sholokhov and Alexei Tolstoy.

Sholokhov is the better known of the pair. He won the Nobel prize in 1965, for writing about the life of a Coassack village during Russian revolution in "And Quiet Flows the Don."

Alexei Tolstoy, who wrote "The Ordeal," a trilogy about the October Revolution, is lesser known.

"A distant relative of Leo Tolstoy, Alexei Tolstoy was a former nobleman who became a major Soviet artist," writes the UK's Guardian.

His literary choices are interesting given that Khamenei succeeded Ruhollah Khomeini, the leader of the Iranian Revolution, after Khomeini's death in 1989. Khameini is the most powerful figure in Iran, and is the ultimate authority on the country’s international and domestic policy.

Daniel Kalder, an author who has written a series of pieces about dictators and literature for the Guardian, called the authors “very interesting choices, especially the Alexei Tolstoy."

“Both Sholokhov and Tolstoy were very pro-regime writers, but Sholokhov was recognised internationally, and won the Nobel prize, so everyone knows him as a good writer. Alexei Tolstoy though is a very interesting figure. He was on the ‘wrong side’, anti-Bolshevik, became an émigré, and then he returned,” said Kalder. “He was so skilled at giving the regime what it wanted that he made it through Stalin’s repressions. He was able to adapt, and it looks like his text is too.”

Not everyone is pleased to find a fellow reader in Khamenei, however.

Cathy McCann of PEN International finds bitter irony in the Ayatollah's tweets.

That's because Khamenei is the ultimate authority in a country rife with censorship where writers are persecuted and more than 20 writers are currently held in Iranian jails, according to PEN International.

“In spite of pledges made by President Rouhani to protect and promote freedom of expression, the new administration has not made any significant improvements in this respect to date,” she said in response to Khamenei's tweets. Although some “cosmetic” gestures have been made, she continued, “dozens remain behind bars and arrests are continuing. Writers facing persecution continue to flee Iran in large numbers, and many report continued harassment by the authorities towards family members who remain in the country.

“In the light of this, Ayatollah Khamenei’s comments are an insult to all readers and writers in Iran.”

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