Excerpt of Censoring an Iranian Love Story by Shahriar Mandanipour
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In the early days following the revolution, after a book had been printed, its publisher had to present three copies of it to the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance to receive a permit for it to be shipped out of the print shop and to be distributed. However, if the ministry deemed the book to be corruptive, the printed copies would remain imprisoned in the print shops dark storage, and its publisher, in addition to having paid printing costs, either would have to pay storage costs, too, or would have to recycle the books into cardboard. This system had driven many publishers to the brink of bankruptcy.
In more recent years, to limit their financial risk and for books not to remain in storage houses for years and grow moldy waiting for an exit permit, based on a semiverbal, semiformal agreement, prior to actually printing a book, the independent Iranian publisher will voluntarily, with his own two hands and two feet, deliver three copies of the manuscript prepared with the latest typesetting and page design software to the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance to receive a permit before the book is actually printed.
In a particular department at this ministry, a man with the alias Porfiry Petrovich (yes, the detective in charge of solving Raskolnikovs murders) is responsible for carefully reading books, in particular novels and shortstory collections, and especially love stories. He underlines every word, every sentence, every paragraph, or even every page that is indecent and that endangers public morality and the time- honored values of society. If there are too many such underlines, the book will likely be considered unworthy of print; if there are not that many, the publisher and the writer will be informed that they must simply revise certain words or sentences. For Mr. Petrovich this job is not just a vocation; it is a moral and religious responsibility. In other words, a holy profession. He must not allow immoral and corruptive words and phrases to appear before the eyes of simple and innocent people, especially the youth, and pollute their pure minds. Sometimes he even tells himself:
Look here, man! If one word or phrase escapes your pen and provokes a young person, you will share in his sin, or, worse, you will be just as guilty as those depraved people who produce pornographic films and photos and illegally distribute them among the public.
From his perspective, writers are generally devious, immoral, and faithless people, some of whom are directly or indirectly agents of Zionism and American imperialism, and they try to deceive him with their tricks and ploys. Given his profound sense of responsibility, while he reads the typeset manuscripts, Mr. Petrovichs heart beats wildly. As he advances page by page, slowly the words begin to make strange movements before his eyes. In his mind, amid the echoes of the words, he hears mysterious whisperings that put him on his guard. Suspicious, he goes back a few pages and reads more carefully.His face begins to perspire, and his fingers start to tremble as they turn the pages. The more he pays attention, the more devious the criminal words become. They move around; the sentences intertwine. Implicit expressions, explicit expressions, innuendos, and connotations concealed in shadows begin to parade around in his head and create an uproar. He sees that some motherfucking words are lending letters to one another to create vulgar words or raunchy images. The sound of the pages turning resembles the sound of a guillotine blade falling. Mr. Petrovich hears the hue and cry of the words explode in his ears. He yells:
Shut the hell up!
Excerpted from Censoring an Iranian Love Story by Shahriar Mandanipour Copyright © 2009 by Shahriar Mandanipour. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.