Babylon & Beyond

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IRAN: Bureaucratic realism in Tehran

November 19, 2007 |  2:27 pm

Iranian authorities have banned a Persian-language translation of Gabriel Garcia-Marquez's novel, "Memories of My Melancholy Whores," but pirated copies continue to sell briskly in Tehran. In fact, sales appear to have increased since the ban went into effect.

On the sidewalks outside Tehran University, vendors sold copies of the book, which is titled "Memories of my Melancholy Sweethearts," in the Persian version. On Sunday, the booksellers busily bound copies of the Colombian novelist's book to sell for about $3 each. At least one website put the whole book online, and without mistranslating the title.

The novel tells the story of a 90-year-old man who spends a night with an adolescent virgin.

Publication of the book sparked controversy in Iran. The Fars News Agency, in a report that has now apparently been removed from its website, first revealed last week that the officially sanctioned publishing of the book was a "bureaucratic error."

Fars reported that the an initial 5,000-copy print run of the book had sold out within weeks before the book was discontinued. "The official responsible for originally authorizing the book's publication has been sacked," the report said.

Fars quoted an unnamed official of the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, which censors all movies, books and newspapers in Iran, as saying, "This kind of thing can happen when 50,000 books are published every year in Iran."

Literature blogs jumped all over the news. "Good to hear -- if true -- that they're still publishing that much, wrote the Literary Saloon, "and lets hope more spills through the cracks."

The Nobel laureate Garcia-Marquez, considered one of the world's greatest novelists, all but invented the fictional sub-genre of magical realism.

— Ramin Mostaghim in Tehran and Borzou Daragahi in Beirut