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John Barth Wins Iranian Literary Prize

A Persian translation of John Barth's The Floating Opera won the Iranian literary prize Roozi Rozegari, announced on May 17 in a ceremony held in Tehran. Roozi Rozegari will award "the best foreign work translation" annually, a category added to the Iranian literary prize for the first time this year. The Floating Opera, which was published last year in Iran by Qoqnoos publications, was among Umberto Eco's Baudolino and Saul Bellow's Seize the Day in the prize short list.

John Barth wrote in his statement, read by me at the prize ceremony in Tehran:

It is always a pleasure and an honor to have one's work translated into other languages and published in other countries.It is always a pleasure and an honor to have one's work translated into other languages and published in other countries. And for me it is a particular pleasure to have my earliest novel — first published more than half a century ago — newly translated into a language akin to that of one of my longtime literary navigation-stars: the Scheherazade of Kitab Alf Laylah wah Laylah, The Book of 1001 Nights.

At the same time, Barth denounced the no-copyright situation in Iran. "[H]owever, I must deplore the publication of any copyrighted material without its author's consent. I urge the government of Iran to join the international community in signing the World Intellectual Property Organization Treaty, and Iranian publishers to secure proper permission before publishing copyrighted material."

Iran does not obey copyright law and many classics and internationally bestselling titles are translated and published in the country without its author's permission.Iran does not obey copyright law and many classics and internationally bestselling titles are translated and published in the country without its author's permission. Subsequently, in case of interviewing the author or announcing any prize, the news would be a shock to the work's writer and its publisher. But, regarding problems the Iranian literary society has, many of them not only would not complain but also would give an honorary copyright to the Iranian publisher.

The Iranian literary society faces immense challenges in publishing books. For translators or publishers there is almost no money in the book industry, so what remains would be just a matter of interest. At the same time, the government is cracking down on writers through censorship or not giving them permission for the publication. Iran's Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance vets all books to insure they conform to Islamic principles. It takes the ministry some months or even more than a year before granting permission to a novel or a short story collection, and there is always the possibility that they will not give it at all, as the control procedure and the censorship is arbitrary.

" International authors do not trust Iranian publishing companiesInternational authors do not trust Iranian publishing companies, and this is one of the consequences of the violation of copyright laws in Iran," stated Amir Hosseinzadegan, the manager of Qoqnoos who was interviewed by Mehrnews Agency regarding John Barth's statement.

"As an Iranian publisher, I call for Iran's government to join the WIPO Copyright Treaty. Foreign publishers expect us to obtain permission for publishing their books," he said to the agency, hoping that Barth's statement would be a catalyst for a new movement to uphold copyright.

He also added that John Barth is not the first writer who objected to the unauthorized publication of his book in Iran. "Many foreign publishers do not sign agreements with Iranian publishing companies and many of them who sign agreements are not satisfied with their royalties since book prices are much lower in Iran compared to Western countries," explained Hosseinzadegan, who has already made agreements with some foreign publishers such as Routledge and Gallimard. For example, 1,650 copies of The Floating Opera were printed in the first run, each priced at about five dollars.

Published in 1957, The Floating Opera, Barth's first novel, is the story of a lawyer Todd Andrews, who changed his mind on June 21, 1937, and decided not to commit suicide. The book, considered one of the pioneers in American postmodern literature, deals with '50s nihilism and sexual revolution in the U.S. Barth himself remarked once that the book reflects the influence of French existentialist thought in post-World War II America.

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Saeed Kamali Dehghan is an Iranian journalist who contributes to the Guardian. He has worked with some prominent Iranian reformist papers such as Shargh and Hammihan Daily. His official blog is available at

Books mentioned in this post

  1. The Floating Opera and the End of... Used Trade Paper $7.50
  2. Baudolino Used Hardcover $5.95
  3. Seize the Day (Penguin Classics) Used Trade Paper $8.00

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