Mousavi's Recommendation Makes "News of a Kidnapping" a Hit in Tehran

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Audio Transcript:

Mullins: There is no release in store for the leader of Iran's opposition, former presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi. He has been under house arrest since February. Recently, Mousavi was allowed to meet briefly with his daughters and, according to news reports, he told them that if they want to know what his detention is like they should read a book called "News of a Kidnapping." That caused a run on Tehran bookstores as Iranians rushed to buy their own copies. "News of a Kidnapping" is not an Iranian book though. It was written in 1996 by Nobel Prize winner Gabriel Garcia Marquez of Columbia. Ilan Stavans is a professor of Latin American Culture at Amherst College in Massachusetts. The book, "News of a Kidnapping", he says, describes the abduction of politicians in Columbia.

Ilan Stavans: This is the story of a friend of Garcia Marquez, Maruja Pachon and her husband Alberto Villamizar, who in the late '90s were kidnapped by drug cartels. These two abductions were actually part of a larger orchestrated effort by the drug cartel to kidnap major celebrities in order to be able to put the government in a difficult position and give in to what the drug cartel needed at that time. Garcia Marquez enters the world of these two individuals, Maruja and Alberto, and through them the world of many more that at that time felt vulnerable to this paramilitary entity, the drug cartel, that was actually doing what it wanted without any control from the government. It is a very different context from what is happening in Iran today. But the fact that this can be taken as a metaphor for a larger picture, the larger picture being that if you are going to speak to your mind against the government you are going to end up being pushed aside and silenced, is one that they clearly is speaking very loudly in Iran today.

Mullins: Is the...was the speaking very loudly in Iran there something about Gabriel Garcia Marquez's writing that is particularly universal or is it just the circumstances he's talking about in terms of political persecution in Iran, or those who go up against the drug cartels in Colombia that has a resonance?

Stavans: Not too long ago we read another important book that came from Iran "Reading Lolita in Tehran", a book about finding good literature and trying to use it as a way to understand a world that was being declothed by the religious fanaticism at that time. That [??] can be embraced in a society like Iran is, in many ways, something similar that is happening to Garcia Marquez. Garcia Marquez is a writer that becomes universal precisely by focusing on the particulars of his country; on the reality in Bogota, in [??], and other parts of his country. I love the fact that a good literature when it is able to transcend its own borders, it proves that it is not only written for the immediate readers of that particular country; that literature has no nationality but it becomes something global. On the other hand, I wonder what it means to become a bestseller in Tehran? A bestseller in Colombia can be 3,000 copies, 5,000 copies. Perhaps it really doesn't matter how many copies in the end are circulating. What matters is that a book is being used as a message to show that the paradime of a politician in one country is very similar to the one in another country regardless of the differences those two countries have.

Mullins: Ilan Stavans is a professor of Latin American Culture at Amherst College in Massachusetts.