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Rooftops of Tehran

September 13, 2009

Rooftops of Tehran by Mahbod Seraji
published by NAL Trade May 5, 2009

Seventeen-year-old Pasha Shahed has had a comfortable middle-class childhood in Tehran. In the summer of 1973, as he struggles with the ups and downs of becoming a man, he spends his nights on the rooftop with his best friend, Ahmed. Pasha is serious and bookish, and Ahmed is rebellious and funny. They share a deep bond of loyalty. Pasha also nurses a guilty secret — he has fallen in love with his beautiful neighbor, Zari, who is betrothed to his good friend “Doctor.” He and Zari form a special friendship, and along with Ahmed and his beloved, Faheemeh, they share a wonderful summer.

Woven into this story are glimpses of Pasha, the following year, confined to a psychiatric hospital. He is confused, frightened, and trying to remember what happened. As readers follow the summer of 1973, watching Pasha savor his time with his friends and struggle with being in love for the first time, we are brought closer and closer to the devastating events that led to Pasha’s hospitalization.

This is an engaging love story that flows smoothly, despite the shifts in time, with a well-developed cast of characters. Funny, brave, rebellious Ahmed is my favorite. On another level, this novel reflects the courage of people who worked against the last Shah, kept in power by the U.S., and the terror wrought by his CIA-trained secret service agency, SAVAK. At the same time, it offers a broad view of Iranian history and culture. It is also rich with literary allusions, including references to Emile Zola, Fydor Dostoyevsky, and some of the great Iranian poets.

At times sad, and at other times laugh-out-loud funny, this book held my interest from beginning to end, and I thoroughly enjoyed the company of its characters.

One thing that might have detracted from the story was the surprise ending. I normally dislike unexpected twists at the end of books — but I liked this one. If others have read the book, I’m interested in hearing what you think.

I am looking forward to reading future books by this first-time novelist. I understand he has two books in the works, including a sequel to The Rooftops of Tehran.
I highly recommend this book to fiction lovers, especially those who enjoy getting glimpses of other places and cultures through fiction.

There is another review at Five Minutes for Books and one at Hey Lady Watcha Readin’?

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