Hey! Dimwit! Get rid of that sign and escape! Im talking to you . . . !
Again the girl looks behind her. She sees that same fluid dark face on the other side of the fence. She thinks perhaps someone is squatting down behind the wall and has lifted his head up to the fence.
Hey! Daydreamer, go home! . . . Today death has it in for you. Go home! . . . Do you understand? Its been half an hour since death fell in love with you. Its sharpening its sickle to stab it into your body. Run while you can . . . Do you hear me . . . ? No, this face and its cobwebbed voice cannot be real. Sara peeks through the fence and behind the stone wall and sees the figure of a hunchback midget dressed in clothes that seem to belong to centuries ago . . . She opens her mouth to ask:
What in the world do you want from me? But her words choke in her throat. Petrified, she realizes that at this moment, any question and all the words in the world will seem absurd and meaningless. There appear to be no eyeballs in the round eye sockets on that face. They resemble two wells with moonlight reflecting on the dark water at their pit.
What do you want with my eyes? Think of yourself. You will be killed . . . Do you understand? . . . Run! The fighting will start any minute now.
The scuffle begins. The shouts of slogans and obscenities and the screams of boys and girls being beaten drown in the daily clamor of the city of eleven million.
We skip past this scene because it seems to have nothing to do with a love story. However, if you have paid attention, you will have noticed that I, with that notorious cunning of a writer, have described the scuffle between the police and the students in such a way that I cannot be accused of political bias.
If you ask me who I am, I will say:
I am an Iranian writer tired of writing dark and bitter stories, stories populated by ghosts and dead narrators with predictable endings of death and destruction. I am a writer who at the threshold of fifty has understood that the purportedly real world around us has enough death and destruction and sorrow, and that I did not have the right to add even more defeat and hopelessness to it with my stories. In my stories and novels there are men whom I have created with a body and romantic valor that I do not possess. Similarly, there are women whose bodies and personalities I have reproduced from the body and soul of the woman whom I have longingly seen in my dreamsalthough I have never had the sincerity to give this fantasy woman a permanent face so that I dont confuse her with certain real women. Between you and me, I have on occasion even cheated on this fantasy woman and imagined and written of her blond hair as black, and once as auburn. At any rate, I hate myself for sending characters that I like, that I have scrupulously created word by word, toward darkness or bloody death at the end of my stories, like Dr. Frankenstein.
For these reasons, and for reasons that like other writers I will probably discover later, I, with all my being, want to write a love story. The love story of a girl who has never seen the man who has been in love with her for a year and whom she loves very much. A story with an ending that is a gateway to light. A story that, although it does not have a happy ending like romantic Hollywood movies, still has an ending that will not make my reader afraid of falling in love. And, of course, a story that cannot be labeled as political. My dilemma is that I want to publish my love story in my homeland . . . Unlike in many countries around the world, writing and publishing a love story in my beloved Iran are not easy tasks. Following the victory of one of our last revolutionsduring which our shouts for freedom, with the assistance of Western media, deafened the universe to make up for twenty- five hundred years of dictatorial rule by kings, an Islamic constitution was written. This new constitution allows the printing and publishing of any and all books and journals and strictly prohibits their censorship and inspection. Unfortunately, however, our constitution makes no mention of these books and publications being allowed to freely leave the print shop.
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.
Blood at the Root
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