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Censoring an Iranian Love Story Hardcover – Deckle Edge, May 5, 2009

4.3 out of 5 stars 15 customer reviews

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Book Description
From one of Iran’s most acclaimed and controversial contemporary writers, his first novel to appear in English—a dazzlingly inventive work of fiction that opens a revelatory window onto what it’s like to live, to love, and to be an artist in today’s Iran.

The novel entwines two equally powerful narratives. A writer named Shahriar—the author’s fictional alter ego—has struggled for years against the all-powerful censor at the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance. Now, on the threshold of fifty, tired of writing dark and bitter stories, he has come to realize that the “world around us has enough death and destruction and sorrow.” He sets out instead to write a bewitching love story, one set in present-day Iran. It may be his greatest challenge yet.

Beautiful black-haired Sara and fiercely proud Dara fall in love in the dusty stacks of the library, where they pass secret messages to each other encoded in the pages of their favorite books. But Iran’s Campaign Against Social Corruption forbids their being alone together. Defying the state and their disapproving parents, they meet in secret amid the bustling streets, Internet cafés, and lush private gardens of Tehran.

Yet writing freely of Sara and Dara’s encounters, their desires, would put Shahriar in as much peril as his lovers. Thus we read not just the scenes Shahriar has written but also the sentences and words he’s crossed out or merely imagined, knowing they can never be published.

Laced with surprising humor and irony, at once provocative and deeply moving, Censoring an Iranian Love Story takes us unforgettably to the heart of one of the world’s most alluring yet least understood cultures. It is an ingenious, wholly original novel—a literary tour de force that is a triumph of art and spirit.

"Wheatfields or Apple Orchards": An Essay by Shahriar Mandanipour

At book readings, authors are often asked, Why do you write? One says, I write to inform and enlighten people. Another explains, I write because it is my socio-political responsibility. One more declares, I write for myself. Yet another suggests, I write for the sake of literature and the beauty of language. And one writer dares, I write to achieve immortality. Their many different answers each contain a story, because they are storytellers. And I, too, have a story of my own.

I need to begin back in fourth grade. Until then, my mother would always write my school compositions for me. But one day when I came home for lunch, she had gone out, and I was forced, for the very first time, to write my composition myself. In Iran, it is customary for teachers to select the subject of composition assignments based on the season of the year. At the time, it was Autumn—describe the Fall, instructed the teacher. I had little time before the afternoon school session began, and so I sat down to write. After struggling through the first few sentences, suddenly I saw myself writing words that I had never thought of before. Furiously, I wrote of a field whose wheat stalks have turned golden and are ready to be harvested. I wrote of a shepherd sitting in the shade of a tree and playing his flute while his sheep bleat and graze nearby. In this vein, I wrote and wrote until suddenly I realized I needed to hurry back to school.

Before that afternoon, whenever the teacher made me read my compositions in front of the class, I had mostly received a B or B-minus. But on this day, I was sure I would earn an A-plus. For the very first time, I shot up my hand to read my composition. I read of the melody of the shepherd’s flute, of how happy the sheep are, and of the golden wheatfield that is ready for the harvest. But as soon as I read this sentence, the teacher started to growl. "Wheatfields are not harvested in the Autumn!" she shouted. I continued to read anyway. I was proud of the words I had written, about how the wind blows in the golden wheatfield, and about how the golden wheat stalks, ready, eager, to be plowed, to dance. "You stupid boy, wheatfields are not plowed in the autumn," she snapped again. She gave me a C-minus.

Years have passed since that day. I have published ten volumes of short stories and novels. I have managed to cross over the walls of a sterner censorship than my teacher’s that afternoon in Iran. And now that I have also crossed over the threshold of fifty, I know how I’d answer that question about why I write. I write to bring a wheatfield to harvest in my own words, in my own autumn. If I have succeeded, or will succeed, it will be because perhaps there are some who may benefit from the crop. Each grain of wheat is a word and each word a grain toward a story. In the Islamic account of Adam and Eve, the two are driven from heaven to earth after eating not an apple but grains of wheat. What the first pair of lovers ate in Eden eat isn’t important. What is important is for each of us—all the storytellers of the world—to bring our own apple orchards, or wheatfields, to harvest, in our own time and our own seasons.

Perhaps there will be those who will eat from them, and are driven to heaven. —Shahriar Mandanipour

(Translated from the Farsi by Sara Khalili)

From Publishers Weekly

The first of Mandanipour's novels to appear in English follows an ambitious but censored Iranian writer as he attempts to write a Nobel-caliber love story that will pass the censors' inspection. As a professional writer, narrator Shahriar has known his censor, nicknamed Pofiry Petrovich, for long enough that he can anticipate his objections. Shahriar's work in progress, which unfolds as a subnarrative within the novel, concerns Dara and Sara, teenagers named after prerevolutionary Iranian children's book characters, as they explore sexual and emotional love in a nation that forbids physical or social interaction between young people of the opposite sex. As the couple's love grows, the self-censoring writer strikes out whole passages in anticipation of his censor's objections. All the while, the writer converses with his censor, his characters, the reader and himself to create an intriguing postmodern, multifaceted romance steeped in Iranian culture. Kudos to Khalili for a wonderfully fluid translation of an intricately layered text. (May)
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This Book Is Bound with "Deckle Edge" Paper
You may have noticed that some of our books are identified as "deckle edge" in the title. Deckle edge books are bound with pages that are made to resemble handmade paper by applying a frayed texture to the edges. Deckle edge is an ornamental feature designed to set certain titles apart from books with machine-cut pages. See a larger image.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf (May 5, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307269787
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307269782
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.2 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,525,136 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Mary Whipple HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWER on June 15, 2009
Format: Hardcover
When I picked up this book, written by a popular Iranian author, my only expectation was that it would be an unusual view of the writing life in Iran today. What I never expected was that the book would be so funny! Witty, cleverly constructed, and full of the absurdities that always underlie great satire, this unique metafiction draws in the reader, sits him down in the company of an immensely talented and very charming author, and completely enthralls.

Having reached the "threshold of fifty," Mandanipour says he intends to write a love story, and, most importantly, that "I want to publish my love story in my homeland." He then becomes the narrator of two stories---the fictional love story of Sara and Dara, which appears here in boldface, and a metafictional commentary by the author, in regular type. Experimenting with what to include in his love story and what direction to take, the narrator, named "Shariar Mandanipour," writes for the censor, ironically named Porfiry Petrovich, the police investigator in Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment. "Because I am an experienced writer," he says, "I may be able to write my story in such a way that it survives the blade of censorship."

The author is true to his reader, however. Whenever he believes that Petrovich will question something, he either crosses it out himself (leaving it visible so that the reader can read, literally, between the lines), or he changes direction and rewrites the action of the story. He never rants or gets angry, preferring instead to show the excisions as silly. He understands that an Iranian audience has far different cultural expectations from a global audience.
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Format: Hardcover
I was sold when I saw that the jacket bore recommendations from Rabih Alameddine, author of The Hakawati (a great recent novel with a quite different story-within-a-story concept), and Diane Abu Jaber, also a great novelist who tackles cross-cultural issues. Another comparison I might make is to The Black Book, by Orhan Pamuk--though this is less gloomy and more personal of a story.

The narrator-author and his nemesis Porfiry are the real entertainment here, although the characters within the author's self-censored novel get more spunky as the story progresses. The relationship of the author and censor reminded me of another great minder-citizen relationship, the one in Gunther Grass' "Too Far Afield" (Grass' novel is much more work to read, though).

I was surprised by the creative twists in the second half of this novel--I generally avoid magic realism stuff--but these wackier elements of this story are well under the control of the author and do serve to bring forth the author/narrator's struggles as a writer--it does not devolve into silliness. If you like it, try tackling Alameddine, Pamuk and Grass afterwards....
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Lest you read no further than this line, let me say with feeling: read "Censoring an Iranian Love Story." Read it right away. Obviously, the USA has been patently ambivalent toward all things Iranian for more than thirty years. Just a few years ago, the streets of Iran were embroiled in Twitter-driven uprisings as the West looked on in amazement. Aren't these the people that called for the death of the "Great Satan?"

Apparently not.

"Censoring an Iranian Love Story." is a painfully beautiful book, alive with the author's viable, breathing description of contemporary Iranian life. Author Shahriar Mandanipour has chosen not to write a love story for the ages but has instead, written a heartrending story for the moment (eventually, this book will stand as an important history lesson). The moment in Iran is at once harsh and beautiful, much like the lives of Sara and Dara, central characters of the book. As Mandanipour describes his struggle to rise above the exhaustive, exhausting limitations of state theocracy, readers glimpse intimately, what precisely has gone wrong with the Islamic Revolution and how it jeapordizes the artistic impulse of its citizens. Considering the persistantly artistic impulse of the Iranian nation, this vision affords an abiding sense of tragedy. Mandanipour manages a difficult feat by illuminating conditions within Iranian society without exercising overt criticism.

Which is to say that Iranian reality is infinitely more subtle than we have imagined. The central characters of Sara and Dara are highly sympathetic as young adults facing the fierce social restrictions imposed by Iranian law. Dara is an ex-film student and ex-political prisoner whose academic records have been expunged along with his future.
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Format: Hardcover
An informative introduction to a 1984 world where the restrictions on personal freedom are represented in two ways: a) the heavy-handed censorship of literary expression, and b) the inability of two people to fall in love in a world where it is illegal for an unrelated man and woman to be alone together. The "world" of the story happens to be modern-day Iran, though it could be almost anywhere - the Islamic Republic does not have a monopoly on censorship and oppression.

Any reader who has been reading the many books that have been published about the Islamic Republic since 1979 will not find much that's new in this book about the enforcement of puritanical codes of behavior affecting dress, grooming, entertainment, gender roles, and so on. No need for magical realism, the author tells us, even as pieces of dusty carpets fly overhead and ghosts from the past walk the streets of Tehran, the actual world is implausible enough. However, as a postmodern exploration of life in Iran for a Western audience, the book is often cleverly entertaining. The tireless efforts of the author to write his love story and the ongoing critique by his censor, Mr. Petrovich, is a journey into an Alice-in-Wonderland world, where everything - no matter how innocent - is cause for debate about the author's intentions or the potential affect on his audience.

The author accounts for how a centuries-old tradition of suggestive amorous imagery in Iranian poetry makes reviewing literature and film for "offensive" material a virtual minefield of potential problems. The over-active imagination of the censor can find political and moral offenses where they were never intended. An ellipsis in a story . . . can invite the lubricious imagination to run riot.
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