By Fareed Zakaria, CNN
Guess which author has a top-selling book around here; everyone seems to want a copy. The Supreme Leader has a new book out with the catchy title, 'Movement of Science Production', but I gather sales for that are only lukewarm. The top-selling author isn't President Ahmadinejad, who I recently interviewed. In fact, it's not any Iranian at all. Instead, it's a Colombian - Nobel Laureate Gabriel García Márquez. He hasn't published a book in years. But back in 1996 he wrote News of a Kidnapping.
You won't find it on bookstore shelves here in Iran - they're all sold out. Rumors have floated for weeks that the book has been banned. But any ban that might have been in place was lifted earlier this week. We had a hard time finding a copy for ourselves. What in the world is going on?
Mir Hossein Moussavi is an opposition leader here; he ran against President Ahmadinejad in 2009 and led the Green Movement protests after the election. But he's been under house arrest since February. In a recent meeting with his daughters, he compared his detention to Márquez's account of abductions by a drug cartel in Colombia. Moussavi's word spread. And just like that, News of a Kidnapping went viral.
But what does this say about Iran and the aspirations of the Iranian people? Their plight is best evidenced by a U.N. report out this week on human rights in Iran. It shows how Tehran has mastered the art of suppressing dissent. Hundreds of activists, journalists and students have been imprisoned for taking part in street demonstrations since the 2009 Green Movement. More than 200 executions have been officially announced this year. Barring China, no other country metes out the death penalty more often.
So why aren't we seeing any pushback? After all, it's the year of the Arab Spring. Where are Iran's famous protesters?
One answer could be that the Iranian regime has really learned its lesson from 2009 - now it crushes the first signs of dissent. It's also learned from watching the Arab Spring - it won't let hundreds of people gather in public places.
But the likes of Libya and Syria tried that too. What's different here is that Iranians are not Arabs. Many don't like the phrase "Arab Revolutions." You see, the word "revolution" here in Tehran brings back memories of 1979, the year the Shah was overthrown. It was the time when Iranians felt like they could re-create their country. It was an Iranian Spring. It was their revolution.
32 years on, what happened? They're a great civilization with a political system that seems to have failed its people. They arouse suspicion in the region and around the world. They're subject to the most stringent international sanctions. Internally, clearly there is suppression and discontent.
And even if Iranians were to revolt once more - what is it they want instead? They are wary of another revolution. What is the alternative? And will it be any better? It's a question that's much more complicated here than it is in the rest of the region. There's isn't a simple answer.
The one lesson I have learned from watching countries like Iran that are distant, complex and often closed to outsiders is to be careful in drawing grand conclusions about the regime, its stability and its prospects. Clearly some Iranians support this regime for reasons of religious loyalty and belief and because they get tangible material rewards from it. Others fear it. And still others are waiting for the opportunity to reform or even replace it. The people who can read Márquez obviously do not make for a majority - but they are surely a sign of a county where people are gasping for freedom.