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.
The American novelist CG FEWSTON has been a Visiting Scholar at the American Academy in Rome (Italy), a Visiting Fellow at Hong Kong’s CityU, & he’s a been member of the Hemingway Society, Americans for the Arts, PEN America, Club Med, & the Royal Society of Literature. He’s also a been Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) based in London.
He’s the author of several short stories and novels. His works include A Father’s Son (2005), The New America: A Collection (2007), The Mystic’s Smile ~ A Play in 3 Acts (2007), Vanity of Vanities (2011), A Time to Love in Tehran (2015), Little Hometown, America (2020); A Time to Forget in East Berlin (2022), and Conquergood & the Center of the Intelligible Mystery of Being (2023).
He has a B.A. in English, an M.Ed. in Higher Education Leadership (honors), an M.A. in Literature (honors), and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing & Fiction. He was born in Texas in 1979.
“A spellbinding tale of love and espionage set under the looming shadow of the Berlin Wall in 1975… A mesmerising read full of charged eroticism.”
“An engrossing story of clandestine espionage… a testament to the lifestyle encountered in East Berlin at the height of the Cold War.”
“There is no better way for readers interested in Germany’s history and the dilemma and cultures of the two Berlins to absorb this information than in a novel such as this, which captures the microcosm of two individuals’ love, relationship, and options and expands them against the blossoming dilemmas of a nation divided.”
~ D. Donovan, Senior Reviewer, Midwest Book Review
“A Time to Forget in East Berlin is a dream-like interlude of love and passion in the paranoid and violent life of a Cold War spy. The meticulous research is evident on every page, and Fewston’s elegant prose, reminiscent of novels from a bygone era, enhances the sensation that this is a book firmly rooted in another time.”
“Vivid, nuanced, and poetic…”
“Fewston avoids familiar plot elements of espionage fiction, and he is excellent when it comes to emotional precision and form while crafting his varied cast of characters.”
“There’s a lot to absorb in this book of hefty psychological and philosophical observations and insights, but the reader who stays committed will be greatly rewarded.”
“Readers of The Catcher in the Rye and similar stories will relish the astute, critical inspection of life that makes Little Hometown, America a compelling snapshot of contemporary American life and culture.”
“Fewston employs a literary device called a ‘frame narrative’ which may be less familiar to some, but allows for a picture-in-picture result (to use a photographic term). Snapshots of stories appear as parts of other stories, with the introductory story serving as a backdrop for a series of shorter stories that lead readers into each, dovetailing and connecting in intricate ways.”
“The American novelist CG FEWSTON tells a satisfying tale, bolstered by psychology and far-ranging philosophy, calling upon Joseph Campbell, J. D. Salinger, the King James Bible, and Othello.”
“In this way, the author lends intellectual heft to a family story, exploring the ‘purity’ of art, the ‘corrupting’ influences of publishing, the solitary artist, and the messy interconnectedness of human relationships.”
GOLD Winner in the 2020 Human Relations Indie Book Awards for Contemporary Realistic Fiction
FINALIST in the SOUTHWEST REGIONAL FICTION category of the 14th Annual National Indie Excellence 2020 Awards (NIEA)
“Fewston’s lyrical, nostalgia-steeped story is told from the perspective of a 40-year-old man gazing back on events from his 1980s Texas childhood…. the narrator movingly conveys and interprets the greater meanings behind childhood memories.”
“The novel’s focus on formative childhood moments is familiar… the narrator’s lived experiences come across as wholly personal, deeply felt, and visceral.”
American Novelist CG FEWSTON
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Nico Murillo Bio ~ Americans & Texans for Safe Access ~ Medical Cannabis