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Iran, January 23, 2012

Arrested for Bringing Laughter to Iran

Original source

The Huffington Post

Two weeks ago, my translator in Iran, Mohammad Soleimani Nia, was arrested without any reason. For every one of you reading this article, his name means nothing but let me tell you something about my friend, Mohammad.

Iran does not adhere to International Copyright Laws. This means that any book can be translated and published in Iran without the author's knowledge or permission. This has happened to me and let me assure you, it's theft. Plain and simple After the publication of my first book Funny in Farsi, Mohammad Soleimani Nia contacted me asking for my permission to translate my book. He also offered to send me each chapter after it was translated so I could add my own edits. He made it clear that he wanted his translation to be an honorable one. He made every single edit that I suggested.

It is not easy to translate humor but Mohammad was brilliant. Where my American humor did not translate, he found the equivalent in Persian. Thanks to him, I appeared funny in more than one language.

His translation of Funny in Farsi became an enormous bestseller in Iran. If a book sells 2000 copies in Iran, it has done well. The translation of Funny in Farsi (called Atre Sombol, Atre Koj) went on to sell over 100,000 copies before it was banned for further censorship about a year ago.

Mohammad's masterful translation brought much levity to the people of Iran. I was so inundated with emails from Iranians thanking me for bringing some laughter back into their lives, that I had to remove my email from my website. I did, however, tell the readers that they have Mohammad Soleimani Nia to thank. Without him, my stories would have been limited to English speaking readers. Mohammad gained much deserved fame as a result of his translation, fame that may have worked against him. For those who have not read Funny in Farsi, it is a collection of humorous vignettes about my quirky family. There is not a trace of politics or religions. This is also what attracted Mohammad to my stories. Ironically, even the non-political is somehow political in Iran.

In our many email exchanges, I would sometimes ask Mohammad a question about the political climate of Iran or specific event I had just read about in the paper. Even though he answered all my emails, he never once answered any political questions. Through his silence, he made it clear to me that politics was not his area of interest. It was obvious to me that Mohammad is a gentle man with the soul of an artist, a literary descendant of the long line of poets for which Iran is so known. He has always reminded me of the prince in Saint-Exupéry's The Little Prince. Mohammad will not survive in an Iranian prison.