19 October 2009

Censoring an Iranian Love Story by Shahriar Mandanipour

Writing Lolita in Tehran
My friend Manohar sent me this message on facebook a short while ago: "Saaz: just read your book review of 'Censoring an Iranian Love Story' in OPEN magazine on board the Kingfisher flight from DEM to BOM....good stuff!"
Vain as ever, I logged on and located it right away (here) - and was delighted when Manohar asked for the link so he could post it on his facebook page.

I'd enjoyed the book very much and wish I'd had more time to savour it the way it deserves to be savoured. Besides mocking the concept of censorship, this book can be used by "creative" writers as a primer of instruction. There's quite a lot of theory here about literature and how to hold a reader's
attention ("From the late Henry James, may God rest his soul, I know that to heighten the dramatic energy of my story, I have to limit its perspective to either Dara or Sara.")
We also learn a little about Iran and some contributions of Iran to world heritage. The story of Shirin and Khoshrow is told, and crops up in this book in many different variations.
One of the interesting things I learned in this book but the Open review didn't have space for was that "in olden days and current times, when Iranian men search for a spouse, they search for a woman whose lips have never touched teeth and whose teeth have never touched lips. And when they seek a lover, they want someone with extensive experience in biting. Unfortunately, oftentimes either they don’t find her or they end up with her opposite …"

Another was a searing penetration of the nature of hypocrisy. The official Porfiry Petrovich (yes, an alias borrowed from the detective in charge of solving Raskolnikov’s murder) who works at The Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance apparently has his own personal depths. "He looked into Sinbad’s eyes. Tears welled up, and he looked down. “You are right. No one can be completely sure … Hypocrisy has many faces and many shades … Throughout history, all the calamities that have befallen us Iranians have been because of this hypocrisy …"

Closest to home (for us in India) is that many arty Iranian films which receive golden awards from reputable film festivals around the world, tend to portray misery, poverty and despair in Iran.

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