Rooftops of Tehran by Mahbod Seraji
Release date: 2009 / 345 pages
Synopsis (from back cover): In a middle-class neighborhood in Iran’s sprawling capital city, seventeen-year-old Pasha Shahed spends the summer of 1973 on his rooftop with his best friend, Ahmed, joking around and talking about the future. Even as Pasha asks burning questions about life, he also wrestles with a crushing secret. He has fallen in love with his beautiful neighbor Zari, who has been betrothed since birth to another man. And despite Pasha’s guilt-ridden feelings for her, over the long, hot days his tentative friendship with Zari deepens into a rich emotional bond.
First line: “I hear someone’s voice chanting, and the repetitive verses lap like water at the edge of my consciousness.”
Review: Boy, do I want to do this novel justice in this review! First, this is the most enjoyable, thought-provoking, heart-wrenching, (yet joyful) novel I have read in months. There. How’s that for an opening?!
I sat down to begin Rooftops last Tuesday and did not surface until page 150, when I was “rudely” interrupted by an online student needing help with an essay. After the opening scene on the rooftop, I felt as if I knew the narrator, Pasha, and his best friend Ahmed intimately — the characters in this novel will linger for a long time.
I do already have a fondness for Iran due to a lovely friendship I inherited when I met my husband, and this novel allowed me to experience and ultimately understand how the political machinations of any government ultimately affect the individuals in their care. However, the beauty of this novel is that Seraji never objectifies (or glorifies or denigrates) Iran. Instead, he presents a group of friends who we fall deeply in love with and witness, fearfully, how they are affected by the Shah’s oppressive regime.
And I do not use the word “love” lightly throughout this review – this is truly what Rooftops of Tehran is about: Romantic love, fraternal love, bibliophilic love (did I invent that word, book lovers?), love of country, paternal and maternal love. Love runs throughout the sometimes horrifying events of the narration and allows the light of hope to shine brighter than the darkness of even the most oppressive regime.
Another concept that warms this novel is that of “That”:
“‘That’ is all about honor, friendship, love, giving it all you have, living an alert life and not pretending ignorance because it’s an easier way out — all those things packaged together, isn’t it?”
This reminded me of the “What” in “What is the What” — and I so admire writers for putting into words concepts that most of us perceive, yet are unable to articulate.
To whet your reading appetites, let me end with a few passages of Seraji’s prose:
“Zari and I are walking up a hill that’s engulfed in a hazy mist. Down below, the prairies are wrapped in withered green weeds. The wind blows in more than one direction and the grass bends and twists passively. The skies above are an inky blue and free of the charcoal darkness that normally accentuates the luster of the stars at night. There’s a marvelous scent in the air, refreshing and clean, that leaves my nostrils craving more, my lungs longing for a finer share.”
“Zari turns around and stares right at me with a puzzled but thoughtful, crooked smile. Her gaze is loaded with questions, the kind that strike the mind like a flash of lightning, momentarily illuminating your surroundings then leaving you wondering, in the ensuing darkness, what you actually saw.”
To be honest, I hate to give this novel away since I loved it so much… But I was going to allow my desire to share outweigh my selfishness… until the author offered to give-away TWO copies! :) So, if you are interested, please let me know in the comments and I will choose a very lucky winner soon.
By the way, if you missed it yesterday (or wondered why I was interviewing an author I had not yet reviewed), please check out my interview with Mahbod Seraji. He generously responded to my request within an hour and I think you will find his answers fascinating, even before you read his novel.