The following is an edited transcript of that conversation. Taraghi, you are one of the very few Iranian writers who has had the experience of exile as well as the experience of living in Iran after the revolution of You spend much of your time in Tehran, publish your work in Persian, teach, and have a large readership in Iran. At the same time, you frequently travel and spend time in Paris, where you also write and publish. This ongoing dual experience—if we can call it that—is unique and distinguishable in your work. Can you tell us about the experience of writing at home and writing in exile?
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She assumed -- naively, she now says -- that it would last a spell. It was very, very hard and risky. She visits Tehran often and continues to publish there, mostly short stories.
Her incisive, often bitingly funny work is apolitical, but the calamitous Islamic Revolution seems omnipresent, forcing her characters into what Taraghi calls a double life, either in exile or in Iran. While her novel Winter Sleep and some of her short stories, including the collection A Mansion in the Sky, have been published in the United States, the acclaim she has received in Iran and France has eluded her here.
She was recently praised by Francine Prose as a gifted writer whose layered, communicative stories warranted broader discovery. How do you deal with the government as an author and what is the current publishing apparatus in Iran?
I have my own publisher. There are a lot of publishing houses in Iran, even more than before [the Revolution]. Today we have This self-confirmation is very, very strong. What happens with you and your publisher? Do you ever run into questions of censorship? Oh, yes, yes. They cannot publish. Most of them, they send their books abroad to be published, so they lose their audience. For me, I am a famous writer -- one of the most famous -- and my books are bestsellers right away.
For me, to go into the inner life of human beings is more important, to discover myself, to discover the other one, and by discovering the other one, discovering myself. But still I have difficulties publishing because the government as a whole is against me. My position is very bad. I live in France and I come from a very big, famous family. Often they attack me in official journals. They call me a woman who has sold her soul to Western values. I am a bad woman, I am this, I am that.
Still, my books come out. Not definitely but you have no guarantee. The procedure is like this: you write your book, then we have this Ministry of Islamic Orientation.
You have to get their permission. It all depends on who reads your book. If your book falls into the hands of someone who has some brain, who may like your book, who believes somehow in literature, in art, he may give his permission. If it falls into the hands of a Hezbollah or someone with very fanatic ideas Which it could It could. Then he says no, but you can always bargain.
It may take one year. How do you bargain? You sit back. The doors are closed. A change of atmosphere. Khatemi comes, for example, and he changes most of the people. We call this the Ershad Ministry. The Minister of Ershad changed. He was a man who, right away, gave a lot of freedom.
Since Ahmadinejad. Even, for example, if my book has been reprinted six times, for the seventh time I have to [get] the permission, so they have to see it again. Then it takes a long time. Someone else may help. There were a lot philosophical elements in it. It was taken from all the bookshops and for two years it was confiscated.
Do you have any interactions with anyone at the Ministry of Islamic Orientation? Not this one, no. Not at all. But previously you did. Previously, during Khatemi. You could even talk to [the minister], you could even ask for a rendez-vous and go and see him or send him a letter. He was sort of a human person who would listen to you.
For me, I have to wait and see what happens. The difficulty with censorship is that you never know. If you attack the religion, forget it; if you attack the government also. He is suffering This city is a corrupt city. He may be corrupted.
He must come back. You should bring him back. Most of the writers, for example, change the place. They change the time. No -- they set it, for example, before the Revolution or 50 years ago, change the characters. You see [artists do this], mostly with Iranian films.
You probably know -- I hope you know -- that Kiarostami, who is the leader of Iranian cinema, started this [trend].
If he could make a film about a man and a woman, he would, but he started with children in villages. He absolutely wanted to be sincere. Then everybody followed him. We now Especially boys. If you show the women [in public], naturally they wear veils, but there are a lot of films that become ridiculous. I was a scenario for a friend Daryoush Mehrjuei, also a big sceneriste.
Still, you would have to bring it to down eight years old. But what can we do about the hair? Then we changed the character. She wears a hat like that. We made her like a little boy. Because: you could see the lobes of her ears.
Of course. He makes two big knots of the hair. Then, as a gift, he sews the knots onto each side of the hat, and gives these to her as a love gift. You still, despite all these obstacles, want to continue to work and publish in Iran. Yes, in Iran, because I have a big, big audience. I have a big audience in Iran. I want to publish in Iran. Three of my books are translated into French. Actes Sud is my publisher in France, which is one of the biggest publishing houses, and considered one of the best.
I have many articles written about my work. Somehow I am known, but I want to publish here [in the United States]. Sure, definitely. Because I know that if I write a book with a political context I want to write what I believe in. I believe in pure literature.
You cannot buy me. But [at a New York Public Library panel on translation], great great translators from the Spanish said that [in the United States] two percent of the literary works are translations.
She assumed -- naively, she now says -- that it would last a spell. It was very, very hard and risky. She visits Tehran often and continues to publish there, mostly short stories. Her incisive, often bitingly funny work is apolitical, but the calamitous Islamic Revolution seems omnipresent, forcing her characters into what Taraghi calls a double life, either in exile or in Iran. While her novel Winter Sleep and some of her short stories, including the collection A Mansion in the Sky, have been published in the United States, the acclaim she has received in Iran and France has eluded her here.
Resisting to communicate with her doctor, nurses, and other patients, she travels in her mind between Shemiran Garden her childhood home back in Tehran with its trees and sculptures, with her father, mother, auntie Azar, neighbors, and lovers and the hospital in Paris her current residence with its grey walls, the echo of the church bell, and the sound of sirens. For a reader who knows Taraghi from her nostalgic tone in Scattered Memories scrutinizing each and every detail of her childhood in old Tehran, this beginning is surprising: Where are the traces of that eloquent narrator who recalled her memories through descriptive and vivid images? How bitter is the silence of the story-teller who has no more lullabies to sing! However, her reticence and stillness begin to melt as her psychiatrist, knowing she is a writer, gives her a stack of papers and some pencils, encouraging her to write her mental journey out instead of keeping it to herself. After some initial reluctance, she begins to pour out, writing her dreams. There, the endeavor of healing the psyche through writing ends. She leaves the psychiatric hospital and returns to the ordinary life in which once again she has an appetite, makes a to-do list, and laughs at delicate gestures of children on the street.
Taraghi was born and raised in Tehran, the daughter of the noted publisher and editor Lotfollah Taraghi. The collection of her short stories, Man ham Che Guevara hastam A Che Guevara in My Own Right , and a loosely structured novel, Khab-e Zemestani Winter Sleep , published respectively in and , were fairly popular and elicited favorable commentary from the critical establishment in Iran. Taraghi writes in a style that is unique and entirely her own. She avoids sensational experimentation and wild departures from the mainstream techniques of story-telling, and yet she gives freshness and vigor to her artistic vision by creating characters who ring true because they are realistically and sensitively conceived. In the stories Taraghi wrote before , there is a marked absence of women and, for that matter, romantic interest.