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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.

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