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Monday, April 27, 2009

Rooftops of Tehran

Rooftops of Tehran is a coming-of-age novel that begins as the story of four young people caught up in the excitement of first love. In their exhilaration, the four of them see the adult world through youth’s fresh eyes and they can hardly wait to carve out places for themselves in that world. However, Rooftops of Tehran, set in the Shah’s Iran of 1973-1974, is much more than a love story; it is also a tragic tale of defiance and courage in a society in which the price of defiance is often imprisonment and execution.

Best friends Pasha and Ahmed have fallen in love with Zari and Faheemeh, two young women already engaged to be married to others. Faheemeh’s engagement is a recent one but Zari was betrothed to Doctor at birth, the result of an arrangement between two families wishing to ensure closeness for generations to come. Ahmed, bold and brash as always, refuses to be bound by tradition and challenges his rival for Faheemeh’s affections, willing to suffer a beating at the hands of Faheemeh’s brothers in the process. Pasha, on the other hand, has come to love and admire Doctor and he feels great guilt over his love for Doctor’s fiancé. Try as he might, however, Pasha finds it impossible to stop thinking about Zari.

Pasha, Ahmed, Zari and Faheemeh become inseparable friends during one gloriously innocent summer during which they spend long days at Zari’s home talking about life, books, and the future. It is a time during which Ahmed wins Faheema’s hand and Zari begins to question her feelings about Doctor and Pasha. Everything, though, comes crashing down around their heads one night when the Shah’s not-so-secret police pay a visit to the neighborhood. Pasha, alone in his rooftop hideaway, inadvertently exposes the person the police are seeking – a mistake that will have grave consequences for those closest to him.

Mahbod Seraji tells his tragic love story in a way that emphasizes the universal truths shared by people everywhere. All of us possess the same basic hopes, experiences and dreams for ourselves and our families, and we have more in common than not. This is so true that, while reading Rooftops of Tehran, it is sometimes easy to forget that the story takes place in Iran rather than in a location more familiar to the reader. When things begin to go bad, however, the reader is jolted back to a keen awareness of the dangers of everyday life under the Shah of Iran’s brutal dictatorship.

Seraji, who arrived in the U.S. when he was 19, has vividly recreated a world that no longer exists, an Iranian culture that, frankly, was probably no less tolerant than the one of today, considering the regime that replaced the Shah. It was a world in which family, morality, education, and tradition were keys to happiness – much as they are today in Iran and everywhere else in the world. Mr. Seraji tells a good story, one that will gratify fans of several different genres.

Rated at: 4.0

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