Saeed Kamali Dehghan of Guardian presents an accurate perspective on the confusion of book publishing industry in Iran:
If JD Salinger could see what was on the shelves in Iranian bookshops, he would turn in his grave. The Inverted Forest, a 1947 novella that he refused to republish in the US for more than half a century, is widely available in Farsi in most Iranian bookshops, for just 90,000 Rials, or £2.20. (English-reading Salinger diehards hunting on AbeBooks only have the option of a $500 secondhand copy of the Cosmopolitan issue where it originally appeared).
The Inverted Forest’s publication in Farsi is just one example of Iran’s messy, complicated, yet fascinating translation scene, which has long been undermined by the country’s failure to join the Berne Convention on copyright. Iranian authors who publish in their home country are offered some protection under national law, but the work of writers who publish outside Iran is completely unprotected
Thanks to Iran’s love for literature, Tehran bookshops boast a diverse range of foreign titles, spanning everything from Marcel Proust to Haruki Murakami. Even works rarely seen in UK bookshops, such as Gustave Flaubert’s Sentimental Education, are abundant in Iran – and widely read. That said, censorship is rife: the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance vets all books before publication, and most are redacted – although, under the current moderate administration, there is increasing leeway.
Translators in Iran enjoy a degree of popularity rarely seen in the West; their names are published on covers alongside the authors’, and some are famous cultural figures. But for most, translation is a passion career, with little to no financial reward and months spent waiting to obtain permission.
Khaled Hosseini’s “And the Mountains Echoed”, for instance, has been translated into Persian by at least 16 different people. Recently, Arsalan Fasihi, who has translated Turkish author Orhan Pamuk, warned that the issue could trigger a “downfall of Persian literature” because it was affecting the quality of translations.
Tehran-based author Hossein Sanapour was one of more than 100 writers who signed a letter to Iran’s president Hassan Rouhani demanding- while endorsing him in the election, that Iran join the Berne Convention
Authors, too. While some, such as Paul Auster, have begun accepting a nominal fee from Iranian translators, others, such as Mario Vargas Llosa, objected. In 2008, Nobel laureate JM Coetzee asked me to pass on a statement to the Iranian news agencies, one that reflected his belief that copyright protection was not just about money. “It does upset writers, justifiably, when their books are taken over without permission, translated by amateurs and sold without their knowledge,” he wrote.
But even if a few translators go to the trouble of getting the copyright, a different publisher can still ask an amateur to translate the book without it – and precedent says they will.
- Saeed Kamali Dehghan’s first book, Twelve Plus One, was published in Farsi in his native Iran in 2017. It’s a collection of his interviews with 12 writers and one film-maker, including Mario Vargas Llosa, Paul Auster, EL Doctorow and David Lynch.