For November's BEACON subscription, we are bringing readers the paperback of Narges Mohammadi's book White Torture: Interviews with Iranian Women Prisoners. We spoke with its publisher, Novin Doostdar of OneWorld, via email on 10 November 2023.
Lighthouse Bookshop: Can you tell us a little bit about how the publication of White Torture came to be?
Novin Doostdar: In December 2020 I was contacted by the publisher of the original Persian edition of Narges Mohammadi's book to see if we would be interested in publishing the English edition of the book. I knew about Ms. Mohammadi’s activism of course but at the time I hadn't heard about her book. In discussion with my colleagues at Oneworld, we felt that a book on women prisoners’ experience of solitary confinement by an author whose bravery was mainly recognised only within Iran was not likely to have a wide readership in the West. But we were convinced we should publish the book as our small act of solidarity with Narges in her fight for democracy and human rights in Iran. We were delighted that on publication in November 2022, the book received excellent reviews in the Economist, New York Times and other international media. Winning the Nobel Peace Prize was totally unexpected and of course we are delighted that Narges has received the international recognition which she very much deserves.
Lighthouse Bookshop: How do you negotiate a duty of care towards your writer, especially with a book like this?
Novin Doostdar: Narges was in prison much of the time we were working on the book so we couldn’t consult her or discuss any queries with her. We therefore carried out careful fact-checking and did our best to make sure the translated text was both faithful to the original and as accessible as possible for our readers. However, we were emboldened by Narges’ own courage: we knew she was not holding anything back, and in her public statements and interviews, she was highly critical of the Iranian regime. The book itself is part of her activism, and we knew there was nothing we could do that would make her conditions any worse than they were already. Instead we were hopeful that the increased attention on Narges following the book’s publication would alert the authorities in Iran that Narges and their treatment of her is very much on the global radar.
Lighthouse Bookshop: How do you as a publisher approach programming publication of books on current live political issues?
Novin Doostdar: Publishing books on today’s most contentious political and social issues in our highly polarised world is certainly very challenging. There are issues where the rights and wrongs of the situation are much easier to establish, such as in the case of Narges. But there are also complex issues where understanding a longer and more complex history is required – where we can’t so easily divide the world into good and bad. For example we have published The Palestine–Israeli Conflict: A Beginner's Guide. We felt the best way to present all sides of the situation to readers would be to have half the book be written by a Palestinian academic and the other half by a Jewish academic, looking at the same history but from two different perspectives.
Lighthouse Bookshop: What was the reception of the book like in different languages? I can see it has been translated into German.
Novin Doostdar: The German rights and audio rights to the book were sold and these editions were published before the Nobel prize was awarded to Narges. In Germany and Austria, Narges has received recognition for her bravery in shedding a light on conditions in prisons that journalists and human rights organisations can’t access. Since the award, we have sold the following language rights: Spanish, Italian, French, Hungarian, Portuguese, Japanese, and Chinese. Several other language rights are under discussion currently.
Lighthouse Bookshop: Finally, our readers and ourselves are of course concerned about Narges' wellbeing, how can readers support her now she has begun a hunger strike in prison?
Novin Doostdar: In the last few days we heard the news that doctors in the Evin prison wanted Narges to be sent to a hospital for medical tests. The prison authorities refused to give permission, sparking the accusation that the authorities plan “a gradual death” for Narges inside the prison. On Monday this week we heard from her family that Narges has started a hunger strike in response to her jailers’ refusal to provide her with medical treatment. Keeping up the international pressure on the Iranian government is an important way that we can all help with her plight. We should all write to our MPs, prominent public figures and use our social media platforms to raise awareness for Narges, other activists and ordinary people in Iran, many of whom suffer daily humiliations, persecution, harassment, imprisonment and even execution. The Iranian government must know that the world’s eyes remain on them.