Mandanipour’s first full-length work to appear in English is a postmodern novel complete with running commentary on the fictional narrative and its author’s trials.
“I am an Iranian writer,” the narrator informs us early on, “tired of writing dark and bitter stories, stories populated by ghosts and dead narrators with predictable endings of death and destruction.” So he opts for a romance, introducing us to Sara, a student at Tehran University, and Dara, a former student who teases and intrigues her by putting dots under letters in certain books at the library (including The Little Prince and The Unbearable Lightness of Being) to spell out tentative amatory messages. Needless to say, the course of their true love does not run smoothly. Neither does the author’s writing; every word must be scrutinized by a censor at the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance with the vaguely menacing alias of Porfiry Petrovich (“yes, the detective in charge of solving Raskolnikov’s murders”), and there’s no telling what he will interpret as unacceptable or indecent. (Mandanipour was prevented from publishing his fiction in Iran from 1992 to ’97.) After one particularly trying session, the narrator reports with relief that “Mr. Petrovich forgave us three breasts and two thighs.” The tale of Dara and Sara lurches forward, frequently interrupted by such authorial intrusions as “now our love story is slowly approaching its first incident.” Mandanipour guides the reader through this maze by having the “novel” printed in bold font and the commentary in regular font. He has even more fun by leaving in some crossed-out sentences and phrases, so we can see what he’s rejecting, sometimes in deference to the censor and sometimes because they don’t fit the growing love relationship. By the end of the novel Petrovich lets a few questionable scenes get by—“hoping,” the author explains, “that the guilty characters will suffer such remorse, misery, and ruin that my story will at least take on a morally educational aspect.”
Complex, witty, clever and entertaining.