My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Rooftops of Tehran (2009) by Mahbod Seraji (his first book) is a fictitious account of Pasha Shahed, a 17-year-old boy spending his summer in Tehran, Iran with his best friends in 1973. The novel is loosely based on Seraji’s own time spent in Iran before he left at the age of 19, roughly the same age as Pasha who moves to America to attend university after faking his high school grades.
Actually, Seraji states in a conversation found at the back of the book that when he was writing the book the protagonist (or Pasha) had no name since he/Seraji thought in terms of himself as being the main character, and Pasha “would have been [Seraji’s] name if Mahbod wasn’t chosen, and Shahed is [Seraji’s] father’s pseudonym, and [Seraj’s] mother’s maiden name.”
The reader can rest assured that Seraji is not only writing from memory but also from the heart.
Rooftops of Tehran is basically a love story that goes horribly wrong. Pasha falls in love with a girl named Zari, who is slightly older and is engaged to marry Doctor, a 26-year-old university student who is also an activist against the Shah’s regime in 1973.
As for the story it is engaging and enchanting, and certainly recreates Tehran before the revolution, but also represents the SAVAK, the secret police, in a dark and fearful tale of men who are arrested and jailed with no explanation and the power the SAVAK have over the normal citizens. And then things go wrong for Pasha and his precious Zari.
As for the writing, one native in English can immediately tell that this book was written by someone with English as a second language. The sentences are short and choppy and often include cheesy cliches. In addition, the dialogue is often unreal in the negative sense and lacks in credibility. Here’s an example:
Pasha is speaking to Ahmed, his best friend: “I hate them. I hate them all. They killed Doctor. It wasn’t the SAVAK. It was this screwed-up system, this goddamn country and its fucking people who can’t get their act together to overthrow a tyrant [Here the writer is simply ranting on his own behalf]. We’re all a bunch of cowards or we would’ve rushed into the streets protesting his arrest the night I gave him away. Then maybe he’d still be alive” (p 193).
There are many, many more examples of how the dialogue rants or simply breaks the verisimilitude of storytelling, and is the sign of any novice writer. This reader wasn’t impressed with the writing.
The book, however, is worth reading to learn more about other cultures and for the love between Pasha and Zari, but do not expect to be overwhelmed with beautiful language–there simply is none. You can also read more about Iran in Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi and A Time to Love in Tehran by CG FEWSTON.
Rooftops of Tehran, however, is a recommend, but a weak one at best.
CG FEWSTON was born in Texas in 1979 and now lives in Hong Kong. He’s been a Visiting Fellow at Hong Kong’s CityU, and a Visiting Scholar at the American Academy in Rome (Italy).
He’s the author of several short stories and novels. His works include A Father‘s Son, The New America: A Collection, Vanity of Vanities, A Time to Love in Tehran, and forthcoming: Conquergood & the Center of the Intelligible Mystery of Being; Little Hometown, America: A Look Back; and, The Endless Endeavor of Excellence.
You can read more about the author on Facebook @ cg.fewston – where he has 275,000+ followers