Photo Essay

Tehran Book Fair Dogged by Restrictions

Event offers rare opportunity to get hold of imported material as well as new Iranian writing.
  • Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei presents his scarf to an elated standholder at the Tehran book fair. His discussions with writers and publishers here often reveal his views on cultural issues. (Photo: Fars News Agency/Supreme Leader's website)
  • A Sunni Muslim from southwest Iran puts religious books he has purchased in the post. The Iranian authorities, driven by Shia ideology, are very sensitive about Sunni religious books on show at the fair. (Photo: A. Salmanzadeh, Mehr News Agency)
  • Visitors to the Tehran book fair take some time out. (Photo: Mohammad Abbasi/Mehr News Agency)
  • The fair offers academics a rare opportunity to get hold of specialist foreign-language literature. (Photo: Mohsen Rezaie/Mehr News Agency)
  • The fair is a big event and traffic builds up on the surrounding roads. (Photo: Mohsen Rezae/Mehr News Agency)
  • An Islamic cleric mans a stand set up especially to respond to religious questions at the book fair. (Photo: Hussein Salhi-Ara/Fars News Agency)
  • On the fringes of the book fair, extremist groups stage small gatherings to complain that female visitors are not wearing proper Islamic dress. (Photo: Hussein Salhyara/Fars News Agency)
  • Books on the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s are common at the exhibition. This one has a military-themed cover. (Photo: Mehdi Marizad/Fars News Agency)
  • In one of the crowds halls at the book fair. (Photo: A. Salmanzadeh/Mehr News Agency)
  • A porter carts a consignment of books across the Imam Khomeini Prayer Grounds. (Photo: Meghdad Madadi/Fars News Agency)
  • Many visitors come from out of town. (Photo: H. Ghaedi/Fars News Agency)
  • Schoolgirls leaf through one of the many books on display. (Photo: A. Salmanzadeh/Mehr News Agency)
  • Seminary students with their purchases. (Photo: Hamed Malekpour/Fars News Agency)
  • Despite restrictions on the publication of feminist literature within Iran, several new books on the subject are translated or reprinted every year. (Photo: Mohammad Abbasi/Mehr News Agency)

Despite strict censorship and bans imposed before and even after new books come out, Iran’s publishing industry continues to survive, if not exactly thrive.

Over 400,000 titles from 2,300 Iranian and 1,600 foreign publishing houses were on display at the annual Tehran International Book Fair, held from May 4 to 14.

The fair is an important event for the publishing industry in Iran. With average print-runs of just 3,000 and little chance of reprinting – aside from the most popular titles, religious works and volumes of classical Persian poetry – publishers find it hard to turn a profit.

A government study last year suggested that the average Iranian is an infrequent reader, spending just 18 minutes a day reading books other than religious and educational material.

Although “undesirable” books are normally weeded out before they ever get into print, there are frequent cases where books are removed from display at the Tehran fair even though they have been approved for publication. Four days into this year’s event, for example, works by leading novelist Ali Ashraf Darvishian and several dissident writers were ordered off the shelves.

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Event offers rare opportunity to get hold of imported material as well as new Iranian writing.