"In what now reads like an eerie echo of the killing of a young Iranian woman cut down by a bullet during this month's election protests, the Iranian author of this new novel [in its opening pages] foresees the possible death of his heroine in the streets of Tehran. At once a novel about two young Iranians trying to conduct a covert romance in Tehran; a postmodern account of the efforts of their creator to grapple with the harsh censorship rules of his homeland; and an Escher-like meditation on the interplay of life and art, reality and fiction, [Censoring an Iranian Love Story
] leaves the reader with a harrowing sense of what it is like to live in Tehran under the mullahs' rule, and the myriad ways in which the Islamic government's strict edicts on everything from clothing to relationships between the sexes permeate daily life. The novel provides a darkly comic view of the Kafkaesque absurdities of living in a country where movies could be subject to review by a blind censor; where records of enrollment at a university can be so thoroughly erased by authorities that a student can come to doubt even his own name. At its best, Censoring an Iranian Love Story
becomes a Kundera-like rumination on philosophy and politics [that] playfully investigates the possibilities and limits of storytelling. . . . A clever Rubik's Cube of a story, [and] a haunting portrait of life in the Islamic Republic of Iran, even before the brutalities of the current crackdown."
–Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
"Censorship is an endlessly fascinating subject; a puzzle box, a Russian nesting doll in which the writer's truth is buried and often lost. . . . In Censoring an Iranian Love Story,
a writer (also named Shahriar Mandanipour and the author's alter ego) tries to write the story of Sara and Dara, a young couple in love, and finds himself in a metaphorical burka. He is forced to change his story, characters and dialogue to comply with the restrictions of the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance in the person of a Dostoevskian character, Mr. Petrovich. . . . The only thing a writer can do is treat the censorship like a new form [of art], a villanelle or a sonnet . . . Censorship is just another way of messing with reality. It's hard enough to generate one's own ideas without having someone else's superimposed over them, but the fictional Mandanipour finds soaring metaphors to replace simple, yet offensive actions. Things are crossed out, political and sexual, that will prevent his book from being published. He writes a love story that is convincingly, achingly impossible in a place where men and women cannot even look at each other in public. The effect (as every good Victorian understood) is deliriously sensual prose. . . . A 'perfect and beautiful story,' Shahriar warned his censor, 'is the most dangerous story.' Mandanipour has triumphed."
–Susan Salter Reynolds, Los Angeles Times
“Lucid and affecting, ambitious and challenging . . . Censoring an Iranian Love Story,
in all its playfulness and complexity, provides American and European readers with an introduction unlike any other to Iranian literary history and also to Iran’s present reality. . . . When, last summer, YouTube disseminated from Tehran the extraordinary cell phone images of a young woman as she expired from [a] bullet at a pro-democracy demonstration, perhaps few thought first of all of [this novel]. And yet [it] opens with the prefiguring of just such a tragedy. At the book’s outset we see a young girl, a student [named Sara], standing on the edges of a demonstration . . . Sara is fated to sacrifice her life simply because she is standing there, then. . . . It is clear from the novel’s outset that what seem like Calvinoesque intellectual literary games are, in an Iranian setting, played for far higher stakes: Mandanipour’s narrator writes in an attempt to divert the course of history. He writes even a love story—perhaps especially a love story—to save lives. Mandanipour wants us, his Western audience, to understand that in contemporary Iran, there is no boundary between realism and surrealism. . . . Sara’s world could not be more diametrically opposed to our own; in this sense, her realism is our surrealism. Importantly to Mandanipour, that strange state of unreal reality has its most notable precedents, for Westerners at least, in literature: in Dostoevsky and Gogl, to both of whom the novel alludes explicitly . . . But there are also precedents in contemporary fiction like Milan Kundera’s, or in film; and in classical Sufi poetry . . . Mandanipour’s novel is a collage of the factual, the historical, the fantastical, the fictional, the metafictional, and the cartoonish. . . . The ironies for Mandanipour are rife. To record the realities of contemporary Iran, whether inside or outside Iran, is to be banished forever, like a character in a classical poem. The love story of the novel’s title is that of Sara and Dara; but it is also that of Mandanipour and his native country, a love story that cannot, at present, end happily. . . . He is persona non grata in Iran. Albeit reluctantly, but with considerable passion, he writes to us, his new compatriots. But he writes for
his old compatriots, his heart’s true love, in the hope—may it not be in vain—that he might alter the course of fate. The first step, of course, is for us in the West to read, to listen, and to try to understand.”
—Claire Messud, The New York Review of Books
"Exciting . . . Powerful . . . Perhaps we look enviously at those who have the misfortune to live in countries where literature is taken seriously enough to be censored, and writers venerated with imprisonment. . . . Among other things, Censoring an Iranian Love Story
is a tough reply to such maundering. . . . This novel, [Mandanipour's] first major work to be translated into English, was written in Farsi but cannot be read in Iran. His book is thus acutely displaced: it had to have been written with an audience outside of Iran in mind, but in a language that this audience would mostly not understand; it depends on translation for its being, yet its being is thoroughly Iranian, lovingly and allusively so, dense with local reference. And it takes as its subject exactly these paradoxes, for it is explicitly about what can and cannot be written in contemporary Iranian fiction. . . . Two Tehran natives, Dara and Sara, meet at a student demonstration outside Tehran University, and spend the next two hundred and eighty pages attempting not so much to consummate their relationship as simply to begin it. It is like something out of Laurence Sterne, and Mandanipour . . . is playfully alive to the elasticated comedy of a story that expends all its energy on failing to start. But this narrative foreplay isn't just play, because it is forced and not free, conditioned by Iranian political reality. . . . Mandanipour's inventive way of depicting censorship in his novel is to inscribe it, quite literally, in the pages of his novel. So throughout the book, whenever the story of Dara and Sara becomes unacceptably political or erotic, offending sentences are crossed out . . . The text is veiled, but the author lifts the veil for his non-Iranian audience. . . . It is an effective, simple idea . . . Censoring an Iranian Love Story
is not simply prohibited by censorship but made by it. For Mandanipour, the censor is a kind of co-writer of the book . . . Even more interesting, the writer, in this situation, becomes his characters; he wants what they want. Their freedom is bound up with his. This interdependency does provocative things to the relation of fiction to reality. On the one hand, fiction becomes more real–real enough to strike lines through. On the other hand, fiction becomes more fictional–multiple writers (the author and his censors) are making up a collective story as they go along, improvising, cutting, editing, bargaining with each other. One of the great successes of this book is how thoroughly it persuades the reader that a novel about censorship could not help also being a novel about fiction-making; and it thus brings a political gravity to a fictive self-consciousness sometimes abused by the more weightless postmodernism. [The author's] commentary, in which Mandanipour writes as himself, entertainingly informs the reader about the riskier aspects of the two protagonists, the history of censorship in Iran, the revolution of 1979, and so on. . . . Mandanipour's writing is exuberant, bonhomous, clever, profuse with puns and literary-political references; the reader unversed in contemporary Iranian fiction might easily think of Kundera (who is alluded to), or of the Rushdie of Midnight's Children
. . . . Charming and often witty."
–James Wood, The New Yorker
"In this brilliantly conceived and cleverly written novel, characters and author together and separately act and write with sly purpose, disguising and disavowing their subversive ends–to live, love, and create in today's repressive Iranian society."
–Barbara Fisher, Boston Sunday Globe
"In his first novel to be translated into English, Shahriar Mandanipour sets out to write the story of young lovers struggling to consummate their prenuptial passion under the eyes of the Iranian morals police. They hang out in Internet cafes, dark movie houses and on the jammed and smoggy streets of modern-day Tehran. The clandestine courtship comes at a time when university students protest, and vigilantes watch out for transgressing neighbors. A war with U.S. troops and suicide bombers rages in next-door Iraq. Telling amorous tales in post-Islamic-revolution Iran is tricky, if not downright dangerous, but a fictional writer named Shahriar Mandanipour is up to the task. . . . As he tells his censor-wary story, the matchmaking narrator employs symbol, metaphor and plenty of heartache–nods to Barthes and Borges that of course don't go unnoticed by t...