Anna's Reviews > Censoring an Iranian Love Story

Censoring an Iranian Love Story by Shahriar Mandanipour
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Jun 01, 09

bookshelves: reviewed-for-watermark
Read in May, 2009

Shahriar Mandanipour’s ambitious, digressive novel “Censoring an Iranian Love Story” starts from a thorny question: How do you write a love story when it’s illegal for your protagonists to be alone together? The book is really two narratives, feeding into each other but typographically distinct: that attempted romance, and the author-surrogate’s tortuous endeavor to write it in the government-stifled publishing climate of modern-day Iran.
The narrator struggles to honor multiple responsibilities: To the millenia-old tradition of Persian literature, particularly the elaborate traditional metaphor of eroticism. To himself, and the joy he takes in crafting a beautiful paragraph, and the pain of excising it to stay out of jail. To his naive young lovers, whose desire is curtailed by fear. To the truth. Looming over it all, of course, is a regime whose immense bureaucracy “protects” its people from vice through (besides occasionally executing rape victims) such darkly absurd measures as taking a Sharpie to the bare arms of women in Western magazines; re-editing “Dances with Wolves” (an American movie with an important anti-American message; too bad about that lascivious “dance” in the title) so the intimate conversations of the film’s lovers are “explained” by their being a long-lost brother and sister; carefully framing musicians on TV so their instruments (possibly immoral) can’t be seen, thus making the players of lap-bound sitars look like they’re engaged in a rather more immoral act. The censorship reaches into the author’s own mind: passages in the bold-faced love story are simply crossed out, and the conversation often drops off the record for a few forbidden sentences, popping up again after a meaningful ellipsis.
As for the answer to Mandanipour’s initial problem: unfortunately, at present it seems to be “go outside the country,” as “Censoring” is translated from an unpublished Farsi manuscript. But while the novel is certainly frustrated, it’s also funny, sweet, and deeply concerned with the role of the artist in society. In the tradition of Aleksandr Solzehenitsyn, Mandanipour laments oppression by making us celebrate those who are oppressed.
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