Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Special Feature: Interview with author Mahbod Seraji

As promised, today I'm featuring a short interview I did with Iranian writer Mahbod Seraji, who graciously agreed to answer a few questions for us. Yesterday you may have read my review of his novel, Rooftops of Tehran; long story short- I loved it, and I was thrilled to be able to ask Mahbod a few questions.

1. What inspired you to write this story?

My own childhood, the memories of the alley, great friendships I had as I was growing up – As I mention in the interview at the end of the book ROOFTOPS OF TEHRAN is loosely based on my own personal experiences. I have to also admit that reading ANGELA’S ASHES deeply affected me. One of my greatest regrets in life is that I never got to know or talk to Frank McCourt before he passed away. His story was quite an inspiration to me.

2. What would you like an American reader to learn about Iran from your book?

I wanted my readers to know that Iran is full of people just like them. People who fall in love, value friendship, have strong morals. One person at a book club meeting told me that before reading Rooftops she thought all Iranians were animals. We are talking about a nation of seventy seven million people, 70% of which is under the age of 30 with a literacy rate of over 98%. How 77 million people can be all animals, is beyond me. But it’s the reality of the situation we’re facing; the consequence of 30 years of demonization and dehumanization of Iran and Iranians for political reasons. And unfortunately sometimes people only remember sound bytes from political speeches, or Fox News, and form an unfavorable perception of a nation. Now that would be like someone outside the US watching the first 15 minutes of any of the local news channel and forming a perception of life in the US based on those segments, which hardly represent life in America in its entirety. Right? My book was an attempt and a hope for people to understand life in Iran at a deeper level, and understand that people of Iran are very different than its government.

3. What is That, that quality that others say Pasha has, that he learns to value in himself and others?

THAT, is an indefinable quality, perhaps charisma, charm, presence, and a sort of magical appeal that attracts one’s attention. It’s not one thing, someone’s look, education, the way they speak, the way they make you feel, but a combination of all those things.

4. The character of Doctor appears only briefly in the novel but his presence is felt throughout the characters' lives; was he inspired by someone or something in particular?

Doctor was based on two people, a friend of my father who was arrested by the SAVAK and executed, and the son of my Persian literature teacher in high school, suffering the same fate. His father was devastated with what happened to his son, and I wrote an emotional blog called THIRTY YEARS LATER for truth about the whole incident and its similarity to the death of Neda the young woman whose death was captured by a cell phone camera during the last June’s disputed election rallies in Iran:

5. Are there any other books you'd suggest- fiction or nonfiction- to someone who want to learn more about Iran? Will we get to see any more fiction from you in the future?

I have a list at the end of the book: Nonfiction: Ervand Abrahamian has a number of great books on Iran, I also like MODERN IRAN by Nikki Keddie, ALL THE SHAH’S MEN by Stephen Kinzer and THE IRAN AGENDA by Reese Erlich. On fiction side, MY UNCLE NAPOLEON by Pezeshkzad, FUNNY IN FARSI by Dumas, and all of Nahid Rachlin’s books are excellent. I am writing another book and am almost finished. Hope to get it out in 2011. For now, I’m calling it, CHILDREN OF THE VILLAGE.

Mahbod, thank you so much for participating! I can't wait to read your next book!


Nana Fredua-Agyeman said...

Chimamanda called the problem of forming an opinion about someone or a group 'the dangers of a single story'. She said after her book 'Purple Hibiscus' came out, she attended a seminar and one of the participant told her that she is sorry to hear that husbands in Africa are women & child abusers. She said she had by the read 'American Psycho' and so replied the lady that she is also sorry to know that all teenagers in America are serial killers.

Most at times we form stories about people based on the single thing we have seen.

....Petty Witter said...

Hello, I saw your blog mentioned on Alexia's site and thought I'd stop by. An interesting blog, I've enjoyed visiting.

Kathleen said...

What a great interview. It is sobering to hear the comments about people judging a whole nation based on such limited information. I guess that is why I think literature can truly transform the way people think.

jewwishes said...

What an excellent interview, Marie, with inspirational answers to your questions.

I think a lot of individuals tend to judge a nation on what they see or hear second-hand. The way to embrace our differences is to acknowledge them and try to understand them. We, as a whole, not just the U.S., need to try to accept each other for the people we are.

J.T. Oldfield said...

A wonderful interview! I really want to get my hands on this one!

Zibilee said...

What an elegant and thoughtful interview! I read your review of this book and immediately put it on my wish list, and after reading the author's thoughts I think I want to read it even more. Iran is a place that I only know a little bit about, but I would love the chance to learn more.

stacybuckeye said...

Wonderful interview. Based on this thoughtful interview I am going to have to pick this one up.

Serena said...

great interview. I like learning about what inspires writers.