UC Observer logo
UCObserver on SoundCloud UCObserver on YouTube UCObserver on Facebook UCObserver on Twitter UCObserver's RSS Feeds

Censoring an Iranian Love Story

Author offers a satiric perspective on his country’s history, foibles and tyranny

By Patricia Clarke

Censoring an Iranian Love Story
By Shahriar Mandanipour
(Vintage) $15.95

An Iranian who tries to write a love story has a unique problem: because of the morality police, his characters are not allowed to meet.

Shahriar Mandanipour faces the problem in Censoring an Iranian Love Story by writing two stories. The love story Mandanipour’s alter ego is struggling to write within the morality guidelines is printed in bold face. It has lines crossing out everything that might arouse sexual feelings, such as references to leaves “dancing.” The other, in light face, comments on life in Iran today and on the writer’s frustrating encounters with the bureaucracy, with censorship and with his own characters, who complain about the storyline and eventually spin out of control.

Dara and Sara, named for the Dick and Jane of Iran’s pre-Revolution primary readers, are the censor-plagued lovers, but taking equal parts in the story are the writer himself and the government censor, who is named for the detective in Crime and Punishment and who falls in love with the fictional Sara and demands that the writer kill off Dara. Checking the text with the censor during the writing is essential, Mandanipour explains. While the constitution allows printing and publishing freely, “Unfortunately [it] makes no mention of these books being allowed to leave the print shop.”

In the story, Dara and Sara spot each other at a student protest. “Getting beat up and thrown in jail,” the author comments, “have always been among the required credits for [university] students.” The two exchange coded messages in library books. To meet and talk in public is forbidden. They outwit the morality police, among other ways, by meeting in a hospital emergency waiting room unnoticed among the countless victims of Tehran’s appalling traffic and their wailing relatives.

The love story itself, hampered as it is by the censor, is pretty dull. What’s worth reading is Mandanipour’s witty and satiric perspective on his country, its history, literature, foibles and tyranny.

Mandanipour, who has lived in the United States since 2006, had written a number of novels and other works in Iran. This is his first to appear in English. Written in Farsi and translated by Sara Khalili, it has not been published in Iran and is not likely to be.

Patricia Clarke is a writer and editor in Toronto. She recently visited Iran.

Readers’ advisory: The discussion below is moderated by The UC Observer and facilitated by Intense Debate (ID), an online commentary system. The Observer reserves the right to edit or reject any comment it deems to be inappropriate. Approved comments may be further edited for length, clarity and accuracy, and published in the print edition of the magazine. Please note: readers do not need to sign up with ID to post their comments on ucobserver.org. We require only your user name and e-mail address. Your comments will be posted from Monday to Friday between 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Join the discussion today!
Promotional Image


David Wilson%


by David Wilson

If statues could talk

Promotional Image


ObserverDocs: Stolen Mother

by Observer Staff

The daughter and adoptive mother of one of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women share their story

Promotional Image


July 2017

From far and wide

by Various Writers

Meet 11 immigrants who are putting down new roots


June 2017

A suitcase for Cuba

by Christopher Levan

You’ll find more than giveaway toiletries and hand-me-downs in the writer's luggage. Each carefully chosen gift offers a glimpse into the lives of Cubans today.


June 2017


by Kristy Woudstra

Up to half a million people are living in Canada without official status. The ‘sanctuary city’ movement is growing, but the fear of deportation persists.


June 2017

Resisting genocide

by Sally Armstrong

In August 2014, ISIS attacked Iraq’s Yazidis, slaughtering thousands and forcing women and girls into sexual slavery. Today, the survivors are fighting for their ancient way of life.


April 2017

Dear Grandkids

by Various Writers

Six acclaimed Canadian authors write letters from the heart


March 2017

Called to resist

by Paul Wilson

Liberal Christians in the United States test their faith against a demagogue

Promotional Image