Censoring an Iranian Love Story by Shahriar Mandanipour

Censoring an Iranian Love Story becomes a Kundera-like rumination on philosophy and politics [that] playfully investigates the possibilities and limits of storytelling. . . . 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

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“Mandanipour’s writing is exuberant, bonhomous, clever, profuse with puns and literary-political references…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.” -James Wood, The New Yorker

“Prepare to enjoy a meditation on culture, modern Iran, and the power of what is left out. Make sure you read all the crossed-out lines: There’s some pretty pivotal information hiding under there. “-Yvonne Zipp, Christian Science Monitor

“I absolutely loved Censoring an Iranian Love Story. Insightful and sensual, humorous and sly, allegorical and literary, it is an endless pleasure: a celebration of love and the written word from a part of the world where both still matter.”
–Gary Shteyngart, author of Absurdista

From one of Iran’s most acclaimed and controversial contemporary writers, his first novel to appear in English—a dazzlingly inventive work of fiction that opens a revelatory window onto what it’s like to live, to love, and to be an artist in today’s Iran.

The novel entwines two equally powerful narratives. A writer named Shahriar—the author’s fictional alter ego—has struggled for years against the all-powerful censor at the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance. Now, on the threshold of fifty, tired of writing dark and bitter stories, he has come to realize that the “world around us has enough death and destruction and sorrow.” He sets out instead to write a bewitching love story, one set in present-day Iran. It may be his greatest challenge yet.

Beautiful black-haired Sara and fiercely proud Dara fall in love in the dusty stacks of the library, where they pass secret messages to each other encoded in the pages of their favorite books. But Iran’s Campaign Against Social Corruption forbids their being alone together. Defying the state and their disapproving parents, they meet in secret amid the bustling streets, Internet cafés, and lush private gardens of Tehran.

Yet writing freely of Sara and Dara’s encounters, their desires, would put Shahriar in as much peril as his lovers. Thus we read not just the scenes Shahriar has written but also the sentences and words he’s crossed out or merely imagined, knowing they can never be published.

Laced with surprising humor and irony, at once provocative and deeply moving, Censoring an Iranian Love Story takes us unforgettably to the heart of one of the world’s most alluring yet least understood cultures. It is an ingenious, wholly original novel—a literary tour de force that is a triumph of art and spirit.

About Shahriar Mandanipour: Shahriar Mandanipour has won numerous awards for his novels, short stories, and nonfiction in Iran, although he was unable to publish his fiction from 1992 until 1997 as a result of censorship. He came to the United States in 2006 as the third International Writers Project Fellow at Brown University. He is currently a visiting scholar at Harvard University and lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts. His work has appeared in PEN America and The Literary Review and is forthcoming in The Kenyon Review.