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Book Review: Censoring an Iranian Love Story by Shahriar Mendanipour


Censoring an Iranian Love Story by Shahriar Mendanipour

I picked up this novel expecting a poignant and touching ill-fated love story – and found a novel that has all these ingredients, but it is also a tale that is darkly comic. Censoring an Iranian Love Story is an astonishingly original tale and also an insightful look at Iranian history and culture. And what a plot this book has! The fictional narrator wants to write a love story, but he has to write it in a way that will be agreeable to the censors. Despite being an experienced writer with all the writing tricks up his sleeve, such as being an expert in Iranian and Islamic symbols and metaphors, the narrator is forced to cross out much of what he writes. He then goes to the trouble to explain why he has crossed out the material – and the narrator’s numerous asides are as welcome as the main plot line. It doesn’t take long to discover that in Iran writing a love story that will pass the censors is almost as impossible as having a real love affair. This is a society where males and females are strictly segregated from each other – where ‘any proximity or discourse’ between men and women who are ‘neither married or related’ is a ‘deadly sin’ – with punishments such as ‘imprisonment, whiplashing and even death.’

As the story progresses the two unrequited lovers, Sara and Dara, become increasingly frustrated by the narrator’s inability to bring them together and they begin to take matters into their own hands. Even the censor, Mr Petrovich, begins appearing at inconvenient times to talk to the narrator about his novel, censorship and writing. Censoring an Iranian Love Story is a thought-provoking, but highly entertaining read which reveals elements of Iranian history and culture, and also a far bit of the process of writing. It is probably the most entertaining example of magical realism I’ve read in some time. Shahriar Mandanipour is an award-winning writer in Iran and this is his first full-length book in English. He is a very talented writer and I’d highly recommend this book – but just beware of the recurring hunchback midget.

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