Monday, June 9, 2008

Reading The Cider House Rules In Iran

A friend of mine is from Iran. He calls it Persia. A few months ago he went back to visit his grandparents. In his carry-on bag he'd packed a notebook, a few CDs, and a copy of John Irving's The Cider House Rules. When the plane landed the book was almost confiscated. Then it was confiscated. (I thought I'd do this chronologically.)

A customs agent asked to search his bag. The book was sitting on top of the CDs--he'd been reading it on the plane. "What's this?" the agent asked.

"It's something I'm reading," my friend said.

"John Irving. Never heard of him."

"He's a very famous Amer...he's a famous Egyptian writer."



"I'm going to have to take this." And he picked up the book and slipped it into his jacket.


"This book is not allowed."

"But a minute ago you didn't even know what book it was."

"What do you do for a living?"

"I'm a plastic surgeon."

"I will have to read this book."

And that was it. The agent urged him on, and my friend found a cab that took him to his grandparents' house.

Luckily he'd brought a second copy of the book. He'd hidden it under the CDs, knowing that the first one could be confiscated. And he really wanted to know what happened to Homer. Did he bang Mary Agnes? He was excited to find out. He was sitting on the balcony, reading, when his grandmother walked by. "What are you reading?" she asked.

"The Cider House Rules."


"What do you mean, 'No!'?"

"You cannot read that book."

"Why not?"

"What if someone sees you?"

"What's the problem? What's wrong with this book?"

"It's banned."

"It is? Why?"

"Dr Larch is an abortionist; an ether addict. There is sex and violence."

"Well I have to read something. I'm bored. The Nuremberg Rally recreation's not 'til seven."

"Here. One minute." And she disappeared into the house, coming back with a new novel. "Take this," she said, thrusting it at my friend.

"What is this?"

"Tempest Tost. By Robertson Davies. You'll like it. It's got actors."

My friend took the book, but, secretly, he continued to read The Cider House Rules. Everyone was worried. The whole block came out, trying to convince him to put away the novel. "This John Irving," they said. "He is a bad, bad man. You cannot read his books. Burn them!"

"And ruin my carbon footprint?"

They screamed slogans at him. "Bounty! The quicker-picker-upper! Have you had your break today? It's the soap that floats."

Educated men stopped by, their eyes watering. "That book is dangerous. You must get rid of it."

"I'm almost done."

"We can't wait that long!"

"You'll have to."

Finally the book went missing. He was fifteen pages away from the end. He'd fallen asleep with the novel on his night table; when he woke up it was gone.

"Where's the table?" he shouted.

His grandfather rushed in. "What?"

"Someone stole the table with the book on it."

His grandfather looked; sure enough the table was gone. "I told you: Never sleep with the window open!"

At the airport, on the way home, he was stopped by the same customs agent who'd taken his first copy.

"I've got to ask you," my friend asked, "how it ended."

"I didn't read it."

"I don't believe you."

"Believe what you want. Even believe that Homer leaves the apple orchard, comes back to the orphanage, becomes an obstetrician with his fake degrees, and forgets about the lobster girl. You can even believe that. I don't care."

My friend paused. "So you won't tell me?"

It was a long flight home.

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