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Tehran Book Fair versus the literature of Iran's streets

May 1, 2012 |  2:15 pm

Gabriel Garcia Marquez in 2006

Readers walking into the Tehran Book Fair will not find "Memories of My Melancholy Whores";  the Gabriel Garcia Marquez book has long been banned. Yet if they can find a street stall, called nayab foreshi (Farsi for "forbidden items"), that book, and others, will be for sale.

The 10-day Tehran Book Fair, which attracts an average of 550,000 visitors per day,  calls itself "the most important publishing event in Asia and the Middle East." It features publishers from the Islamic world, which are, like those in the West, struggling. Their troubles include the trafficking in pirated, banned books, reports our blog World Now.

[O]n Revolution Avenue, street vendors sell Farsi translations of “The Right to Heresy,” a dense text about religious reformation that became popular with reformists after defeated presidential candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi suggested it. The book, once sold for less than $2, has nearly tripled in price after being banned.

Those prices have made sellers willing to take the risk of hawking banned books instead of approved titles. Several booksellers told The Times they had been locked up for anywhere from six months to two years, yet went on selling once they were freed.

“I can show you hundred titles of the books Xeroxed or on CDs sold in massive numbers right here in the sidewalks opposite Tehran University,” lamented Majid Taleghini, a publisher in Tehran. “We publishers are bankrupt and book smugglers are making a fortune. So what is the use of censorship?”

Frustrated writers say getting books past the government gantlet can take years, making it hard to eke out a living, even as the black market flourishes. Books must be submitted to the Cultural and Islamic Guidance Ministry, which picks out any offensive words, phrases or even whole paragraphs and insists on changes before texts can be printed.

The 25th annual Tehran Book Fair, which takes place at the Grand Mosque Mosalla, began today and continues through May 12.

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Photo: Gabriel Garcia Marquez in 2006. Credit: AFP/Getty Images

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