If it were not for the fact that the great Joseph Heller didn’t die until just before the turn of the century, I would swear that he (or some portion of him) was reincarnated into Iranian-born writer Shariar Mandanipour, because his Censoring an Iranian Love Story was as weirdly enjoyable to me as was Catch-22. Mandanipour tells a story of a writer trying to craft a romance while having to deal with the oppressive censorship of a fundamentalist Islamic bureaucrat. The writing is witty, funny, critical, sarcastic, and ironic. The author frequently becomes part of the story itself, revealing a little of the troubles experienced by all writers who become intimately connected to their characters, but he mostly uses the love story as a baseline in which to critique modern Iranian society. I frequently laughed out loud at his jabs, but the book also tells an underlying chilling tale, and reveals for readers the high level of hypocrisy, idiocy, misogyny, and oppression currently rampant in Iran (a country he may not feel comfortable living in, but one that he clearly loves). For anyone interested in Iran, I heartily recommend this book. He criticizes the deporable treatment of women, the atomic program, censorship, social restrictions, brutality, stalinistic watchdogs, and other aspects of life there. “Every day became days groups of people were killed for freedom.” One wonders how many people in Iran have disappeared or been incarcerated. But many of Mandanipour’s comments are universal as well: “my father was absolutely right, and that is why I disagreed with him.”
The author does, however, seem to fall into the trap many foreign-born literature majors who become writers seem to: he wants to show the readers just how widely read he is, by dropping illusions at almost every turn to well-known (and lesser known) works. Some of this is ok, but at times it seemed a bit of a stretch.