So there we were, two Israelis, an Iranian Jew and an Iranian Muslim, all writers, sitting on a stage at the New York Public Library’s Stephen A. Schwarzman building. The occasion for the gathering was the publication of two anthologies of short stories, “Tehran Noir” and “Tel Aviv Noir,” featuring contemporary writers from each city. That’s “noir” as in “film noir” or “noir fiction” — “a genre,” Wikipedia tells us, “characterized by cynicism, fatalism and moral ambiguity.” But, of course, there was more to this event than what was announced on the library’s flier. You could sense it — the awareness of the symbolism of this moment, how it felt so easy and natural, something that could — should — be unremarkable because it’s so common, but that was, in fact, so unusual.
“Can we not go there right away?” Etgar Keret, one of the Israelis who edited “Tel Aviv Noir,” had asked the moderator minutes before we began the conversation. “Can we not make it political from the start?” Never mind that all writing is political; Keret wanted to talk about the art and craft of it instead of what it all meant. The moderator, Rick Moody, was eager to oblige. Yet, somehow, the first question he asked was about the role of censorship in the Tehran stories.
“Tehran Noir” is the love child of author Salar Abdoh, an Iranian-born New Yorker who spends part of each year in Tehran. He handpicked the contributors and translated the works from the original Persian with uncanny precision into English. It starts with an introduction by Abdoh and ends in Los Angeles, with my story “The Gravedigger’s Kaddish.”