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Iranian Takes Novel Approach To Publish Book

A picture of the Iranian writer Mohammad Motlagh taken from his Facebook page, which he is also using as a means to publish his latest novel.
After trying and failing for years to obtain a publishing license for his novel, Iranian writer and journalist Mohammad Motlagh finally had enough.

Instead of taking the Culture Ministry's no for answer, on April 28, Motlagh began posting his novel -- one chapter at a time -- on Facebook.

"A book is like a child to [a writer]," Motlagh explained in an interview with the semiofficial ISNA news agency on May 2. "One loses the motivation to write when it is considered illegitimate and it is not being issued a birth certificate. The writer cannot work on their next work."

The 42-year-old said he decided to post the novel, "In The Land Of White Eglantines," on Facebook so that he could move on and start working on his next book. As of May 7, he had posted six chapters.

He described the novel as the story of a journalist who travels with his wife to Tehran, "where he faces a series of family problems and is banished by his wife to the basement."

"There," he told ISNA, "over the course of three days he reviews all the adventures he's had with his wife."

Excerpts of the novel taken from Facebook reveal passages that were apparently too racy for the censors:
Maria: But I need you, Issa, why don't you understand? Take this [money], I don't want money or work, I can solve my problems on my own. I've told you a hundred times not to get yourself in trouble for me. What I need is you. Can you believe that from evening till night, I only talk to you? Now you want to take that away from me?

Issa: But I have a wife, Maria!

Maria: I'm not a selfish girl, I will be satisfied with half of your heart.

In Iran, all books have to be submitted to the Culture Ministry for review by censors who make sure they do not violate written and unwritten rules.

Books that deal with sensitive political issues or books that include content deemed immoral, are banned. In some cases, authors are asked to cut problematic passages in order to receive a publishing permit.

Motlagh told ISNA that the first time his publishing house requested a license, the book department of the Culture Ministry announced in a text message that the novel could not be published.

He said that, after that first rejection, he contacted an official in charge of the literature section of the ministry.

"After some time, he said that the novel had a love triangle and therefore it could not be published at all."

Motlagh pressed on, was rejected a second time, then a third, but refused to give up.

After Hassan Rohani became president, Motlagh tried again to obtain a publishing license.

Upon taking office, Rohani pledged to lessen state interference in the cultural sphere. As recently as April 29, during Tehran's Book fair, he said that writers and publishers should be provided security and freedom.

Culture Minister Ali Jannati, meanwhile, has criticized the excessive book censorship that was enforced under Rohani's predecessor, former President Mahmud Ahmadinejad.

Nevertheless, Motlagh's "glimmer of hope" that his book could finally be published under Rohani's government was dashed when the novel failed to get past the censors for a fourth time.

As a result, Motlagh turned to Facebook, which despite being blocked by Iranian authorities is highly popular in Iran.

On his Facebook page, Motlagh has offered to send a PDF file of his book to those who are interested in reading it.

It is not clear how wide an audience Motlagh will be able to reach, although the fact that his novel has been banned by Iranian authorities could make it the type of forbidden fruit that will make it more attractive to readers.

While Motlagh's use of Facebook is a novel approach, he is not the first Iranian writer to find creative ways to circumvent the authorities.

Others have turned to blogs and publishing houses outside the country to get their banned books published.
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    Golnaz Esfandiari

    Golnaz Esfandiari is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL focusing on Iran. She has reported from Afghanistan and Haiti and is one of the authors of The Farda Briefing newsletter. Her work has been cited by The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other major publications. Born and raised in Tehran, she is fluent in Persian, French, English, and Czech.