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Rooftops of Tehran    by Mahbod Seraji order for
Rooftops of Tehran
by Mahbod Seraji
Order:  USA  Can
New American Library, 2009 (2009)
Softcover, e-Book
* *   Reviewed by Rheta Van Winkle

Rooftops of Tehran begins with a brief chapter in the winter of 1974 in a psychiatric hospital, where an unnamed character reacts to events around him. The second chapter shifts to the summer of 1973 when Pasha Shahed is seventeen years old and living with his parents in Tehran, Iran.

An intelligent high school student, whose father has high ambitions for him and whose mother dabbles in herbal medicines, Pasha tells us about his friends, Ahmed and Iraj, his teachers and school, and his neighborhood. He has fallen in love with the girl next door, Zari, who is unfortunately already engaged to a man with the nickname Doctor. Pasha likes and respects Doctor, so he keeps his feelings to himself as Ahmed cooks up a plan to spend time with the girl he loves, Faheemah. If Faheemah befriends Zari, then Ahmed and Pasha can join them for long afternoons in Zari's backyard. Doctor is away on business and the summer progresses as Ahmed and Faheemah wish, but Pasha just falls more deeply in love with Zari and becomes more conflicted.

Because we continue to have flashbacks to the psychiatric hospital, and little by little learn who it is who is hospitalized, we know that there are dark clouds hanging over the happy teenagers who laze away their summer at Zari's house. Pasha and Ahmed sleep on the roof during the hot summer nights, and they begin to witness events that are at first confusing and later turn violent, as the Shah attempts to hold on to his control over Iran. The SAVAK, the hit men for the Shah, appear in the novel several times, reminding Pasha that everyone is being watched, even though the four teenagers are doing nothing more serious than reading banned books.

Pasha's life in Tehran during the last days of the Shah's reign is interesting, as is the love story that is central to the plot, but somehow I never got completely caught up in the book. The girls remain beautiful shadowy figures whose motives are elusive, and Pasha and Ahmed are the only characters with real depth. When disturbing events occur, there's a lot of crying and emotion on the part of the people in the story that somehow doesn't reach out to me, the reader. The political aspect of the novel seems to be woven into the lives of the characters, but we don't learn much other than slogans about that either, as the love story keeps getting pushed to the foreground. I was left with a picture of the young peoples' lives in Tehran in 1973 and 1974, but no real feeling of connection with them.

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