Politics and eroticism

A lot of your fellow writers adapt to the circumstances and write their texts in such a way that they can be published in Iran.

Cheheltan: Literature has always been based on two pillars: politics and eroticism. If we ban both of them from a story, there is virtually nothing left. But these two elements are the focus of current censorship. I'm surprised, because eroticism has been at the centre of Persian literature for a thousand years, especially poetry.

Leader of the Islamic revolution: Ayatollah Khomeini returns from exile in France (photo: picture-alliance/dpa/AFP/G. Duval)
Leader of the Islamic Revolution: Ayatollah Khomeiniʹs rise to the top of the religious leadership shattered all hopes of a democratic awakening in Iran. Instead, a new tyranny arose that systematically persecuted intellectuals and dissenters

Indeed, we have an almost pornographic canon of poetry, which does not originate from the pen of some anonymous writer, but from glorious poets such as Rumi, Hafiz and Saadi. Since I have had the opportunity to publish my works abroad, I no longer see any reason why I should do without eroticism in my novels. That is why my works fall victim to censorship.

How can you interact with other Iranian authors if they cannot read your work? Or do you give them manuscripts to read?

Cheheltan: No. Nobody but my wife, my son, the European publishers and translators get to read my manuscripts. In Iran, many people used to ask me for the manuscripts, but I have asked them to stop doing so. Nevertheless, I am in close contact with my Iranian colleagues, especially younger writers. I teach creative writing in various workshops and give interviews in the Iranian media several times a year.

Are your novels like children whom you love equally, or do you have a particular favourite?

Cheheltan: I love them all, but I'm not entirely satisfied with a couple of my novels. I would really like to get around to re-working them. Experience helps you move forward and as a result your work gets better and better.

Is your book "The Steadfast Parrot" of particular significance because you used it to write about the Iranian revolution?

Cheheltan: No, I had wanted to write this book for a long time, but I kept postponing it. I have always preferred fictional novels. In 2015, I happened to meet Andreas Rotzer at the Frankfurt Book Fair, who would later publish "The Steadfast Parrot" at Matthes & Seitz. He asked me what I was working on at the time. I said I was thinking about writing down my observations of the Islamic Revolution. Rotzer said, "Write them for us."

It took ten months for the novel to be finished. But it's just a work like any other.

Interview conducted by Nasrin Bassiri

© Iran Journal / Qantara.de 2019

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