Roxana Saberi, American Journo Imprisoned in Iran, Redeeming Celeb Publishing?


The American journalist Roxana Saberi's relatively brief imprisonment in Iran on trumped-up spying charges now looks like a preface to a new and, in the end, probably tragic chapter in the country's scarred history. Meanwhile, today's announcement of her book deal with HarperCollins, at the behest of power agent Robert Barnett, bears all the imprints of news-driven celebrity publishing — and, in many ways, redeems it. Unlike the self-serving ex-Cabinet officials and one-trick ponies (yes, even Sully) who benefit from this system — often, it must be said, on the heels of truly important stories — Saberi is a working journalist, and has spent six years studying Iran from the inside with the idea of someday gathering her work between hard (or Kindle) covers.

HarperCollins's announcement promises the book will reveal not only the details of her imprisonment (a source of drama, of course, but also maybe something to offer insight into the Byzantine workings of a state modeled on a Kafka novel), but also "a penetrating look into Iranian society and culture." We certainly hope so, and we can't wait to see it, but we have mixed feelings about the slated publication date of March 2010. In this case, the process of editing and production will of course be greatly accelerated. And maybe Saberi was already well on her way to a manuscript before all of this came to pass. But eight or nine months from book deal to pub date seems a little rushed. The urgency of Iran isn't going away, and when it comes to stories as important as this, the world can wait a year if it means getting the story right.