Tuesday, March 2, 2010

REVIEW: Rooftops of Tehran, by Mahbod Seraji

Rooftops of Tehran, by Mahbod Seraji. Published 2009 by New American Library/Penguin. Literary fiction.

I asked for Rooftops of Tehran for Christmas and I'm glad I didn't wait any longer to read this captivating, magical and bittersweet novel of love, friendship and hope.

The story opens in 1973 Tehran, among a group of friends in their late teens, starting with Pasha and Ahmed. Pasha is in love with Zari, his beautiful neighbor, who is engaged to a young man known affectionately as "Doctor." Doctor is a slightly older student deeply engaged with left-wing political elements opposed to the Shah's autocratic rule; he is also a mentor to Pasha, who adores him almost as much as Zari. Ahmed, more outgoing and flamboyant, is pursuing his own forbidden romance with the charismatic Faheemeh and the four friends spend a summer together laughing and talking and deepening their bonds. Then Doctor finds himself up against the SAVAK, or secret police, and a brand-new kind of pressure comes to bear on the friends.

The narrative alternates between the summer and a time in the not-distant future when Pasha is a patient at a psychiatric hospital; that he doesn't know why or what has happened to him creates suspense and helps keep the narrative moving at a clip- and kept me turning the pages. It's basically a quiet story of ordinary people that Seraji tells and this device injects some drama. When the time lines come together, we find that things have irrevocably changed for Pasha and his friends. As the novel nears its conclusion, there are lingering questions and a twist that left me wondering what the future has in store for these characters- very real and likable people I'd come to care about.

I loved Rooftops of Tehran. I loved the characters and I thought that both the love stories and the political suspense was well-drawn and believable. The romance between Zari and Pasha is just so sweet and sad, and thankfully not without hope. It is beautifully written and has a real tenderness and affection towards its subjects- the characters and the country of Iran. I would give Rooftops of Tehran to smart teens as well as literary fiction readers, who would enjoy Seraji's beautiful descriptions, the characters and their relationships as well as the politics. I know I'll be re-reading this book sometime soon; it's really lovely and I hope you'll want to read it soon, too.

Click here to read my interview with author Mahbod Seraji!

Rating: BUY

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review from the publisher.