Excerpt from Censoring an Iranian Love Story by Shahriar Mandanipour, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Censoring an Iranian Love Story

by Shahriar Mandanipour

Censoring an Iranian Love Story
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  • First Published:
    May 2009, 304 pages
    Jun 2010, 304 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Karen Rigby

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Print Excerpt

The more experienced students, old hands at political protests, respond:

“Completely ignore her. She’s an infiltrator. The Party of God has paid her to create distrust and division among us. To defuse the conspiracy, just act as though she doesn’t exist.”

On the opposite side, the fanatic members of the Party of God also point to the girl and ask, “What’s that prissy girl trying to say over there?”

They hear from their leaders:

“The lewd hussy is one of those Communists who have recently come back to life. Their Big Brother in Russia is gaining strength again . . . but the pathetic slobs only have a handful of members in their party. This is how they hope to attract attention . . . Just ignore her. Act as though she doesn’t exist.”

With their wireless radios, the secret police pass along the girl’s location and ask, “What does this mean? We have no instructions for such cases. What should we do with her?” And they receive instructions:

“Watch her with extreme vigilance and caution. This is most definitely a new conspiracy and a new plot for a velvet revolution orchestrated by American imperialism . . . Keep her under surveillance but do not let her suspect anything. Let her think she doesn’t exist.”

Nameless shades of rage and hatred, voiceless cries of blood and hope and darkness, hang in the air. From one direction, meaning Anatole France Avenue, and from the other direction, meaning Revolution Circle, the police have blocked all car and pedestrian traffic to this section of Liberty Street. In Revolution Circle, hundreds of cars are logjammed, anxious and overwrought drivers blow their horns, and amid the cars curious people stand peering toward Tehran University. It was right here that more than a quarter century ago, on a cloudy winter day, the people of Tehran for the last time dragged down the metal statue of the Shah sitting astride a horse. Of course in those days, when it came to dragging down metal statues of dictators, American tanks sided with the world’s dictators.

The student protesters, aware that they are about to be attacked, break into a heartrending anthem:

My fellow schoolmate,
you are with me and beside me,
. . . you are my tear and my sigh,
. . . the scars of the lashes of tyranny rest on our bodies,
our uncultured wasteland, all its wild plants weeds,
be it good, be it bad,
dead are the souls of its people,
our hands must tear down these curtains,
who other than you and I can cure our pain . . .

In the lyrics and melody of this anthem lies an age- old Iranian sorrow that brings tears to the girl’s eyes . . . She raises her sign even higher. From behind the veil of her tears, the world is transformed into undulating buildings, severed shadows, and rippling reflections on water . . . The young girl’s isolation and her fear of strangers heighten. She looks up to find some solace in the blue of the sky. She sees a winged horse that like a white cloud, ignoring the people below, flies by. Terrified, she sees flames rising from the horse’s back. The blazing horse disappears behind a high- rise. The girl waits, but the horse does not reappear . . .

Then she imagines that in the midst of the shouts of anger and spite, a muffled voice is calling her name.

“Sara . . . ! Sara . . . !”

The girl wipes away her tears and looks around. There are people and shadows moving in every direction. It seems they are afraid of coming close to her.

“Dimwit . . . ! Dimwit . . . ! I’m talking to you!”

The voice bears the same chill and odor that gust out of a refrigerator that has not been opened in a month. The girl looks behind her. A dark face, neckless and torsoless, is suspended in the air. Two of the steel bars in the green fence surrounding Tehran University that have broken out of the stone wall have sectioned the face in three . . . She thinks this face belongs to one of those sprites her grandmother said have parties in the city’s public bathhouses at night and that the only way to tell them apart from humans is by their hoofed feet . . .

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.

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