06 May 2015

Censoring an Iranian Love Story by Shahriar Mandanipour

I found CENSORING AN IRANIAN LOVE STORY on one corner of a library display labeled “Judge a Book By Its Cover.” Well, I did. So I grabbed it.

As the son of an Iranian immigrant (my father) and an American (my mother), I’ve been aware of having a cultural identity lurking in the background. I grew up in Kansas City, and for most of my childhood I tried to pretend that I was just as white as my classmates, with no other culture to draw on. As I got older, I connected more with my Persian side.

Part of that has been exploring the literature of Iran. Most of what I’ve found, however, has been classical: the poetry of Rumi and Hafez and Omar Khayyam. CENSORING AN IRANIAN LOVE STORY is be the first piece of contemporary Iranian literature I’ve ever laid my eyes on.

CENSORING was translated from the Farsi. Farsi is an extremely nuanced and poetic language, or so I’ve been told by my family members who speak it. Sadly, I have not learned more than a smattering. Though I’d like to learn more, there are only so many hours in the day, and most of my free time goes to writing.

Anyway: Despite the translation, CENSORING’s poetry came through just fine, though I’m sure some of the symbolism was lost on me.

In CENSORING, the author, or rather the author’s analogue, is trying to write a love story, but is frustrated because of the public censorship in Iran. The story is told alternately in bold text (the story being written) and plain text (the story of the story being written). Certain parts are struck through, because the author has censored himself ahead of time, rather than allowing his story to be butchered later.

The love story of Sara and Dara was unlike any I’ve read before. Living in an Islamic regime has certainly shaped their ability to form a relationship, but beyond that, the constant tension between the story and the author, the bits of magical realism that occasionally seeped into the story, left so much interpretation in my hands. Here again, the poetic nature of Farsi revealed itself: layers and layers of meaning in each chapter, in each paragraph, in each word, and I’m pretty sure I missed plenty of nuances.

Beyond that, though, CENSORING offered me a look at how an Iranian living in Iran today (well, six years ago) perceived his country. There are all sorts of cultural imperatives that struck me, both familiar (in things I’ve seen my family do) and foreign (traditions they’ve since abandoned). My father’s family is not Muslim, so there were many laws they were forced to obey in Iran that they happily gave up after moving to Canada.

CENSORING AN IRANIAN LOVE STORY gave me the chance to imagine being in Iran. I would very much like to visit, some day, but certainly not under the current regime. I hope that one day, things will change, and I will get to see the land of my father’s birth.