The Times Literary Supplement:
The beat of Dang Show’s popular song “Slowly, Slowly” pumps out of Hoda’s car as we creep down Jalal al-e-Ahmad expressway in Tehran. Named after the literary giant who is perhaps best known for his book Gharbzadegi or Westoxication, al-e-Ahmad has been banned at various times due to shifting government censors at the Ministry of Culture in Iran. Hoda is taking me to an underground book swap party at the home of one of her friends. Two local booksellers who specialize in romance novels have received a new shipment of books – some banned, others, with an unclear but sensitive status. The punishment for owning a banned book includes confiscation, and possibly, depending on the book, arrest, with sanctions up to US$750.
While the Islamic Republic seeks to clamp down on displays of “romance”, demonstrated by the decision last year to ban Valentine’s Day for promoting ideas of “Western decadence”, romance as an industry, and as a literary genre, remains popular in Iran. Although the Ministry of Culture seeks to prohibit books with any mention of words such as “kiss”, “wine”, “lover” or even certain types of food (“pasta”), they are now written, published and traded at a higher rate than ever before.
There is a long history of romance in Persian poetry. Indeed the Iranian city of Shiraz, where poets including Hafez and Sa’adi are buried, has often been known as the “city of love”. On a trip to Shiraz, it is not uncommon to hear passages from their poems quoted by locals. And the sensual poetry of Forough Farrokhzad published in collections such as the ever popular Sin, has also gained global acclaim. Romance features prominently, moreover, in Iranian literary classics such as The Story of Leyla and Majnun by Nizami or Sadegh Hedayat’s The Blind Owl....
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