As a westerner, when you think about the word “romantic”, the image of red roses might come into your mind, and you might smile and think of candlelight and proposals and happily ever after. To a Persian, the word has a vastly different connotation. Romance to Persian sensibilities is something which is worth giving your life for, something bigger than yourself. That is what the rose stands for to the Persian. And that is the premise around which Mahbod Seraji built his lovely debut Persian “romance” novel, Rooftops of Tehran.
Told in the first person, through the eyes of Pasha, a seventeen year old Iranian, the novel takes the reader into the heart of Tehran on the brink of revolution, as discontent against the Shah is roiling. The reader will meet the inhabitants of one neighborhood and feel how their simple lives are impacted when one of their own becomes a target of the feared and hated SAVAK, the Shah’s secret police.
A love story, the book explores the Persian cultural practices regarding courtship and marriage through several families interactions, but primarily in a love triangle involving Pasha and the girl he loves, Zari, and the man she has been engaged to since childhood, as well as in the relationship of another couple, Pasha’s best friend Ahmed and his girlfriend.
The greatest aspect of this novel, I think, is how much it has to teach about the beautiful Persian culture. Whether the discussion is marriage, dealing with death, extended families living under the same roof (Including those just graduated teens that Persians think it so odd that we cast out when they need our guidance the most.), education, or medical practices, the reader will find ethnic lore woven seamlessly throughout the tale. This book made me pull out my copy of Hafiz poetry and take a fahll, a delightful indulgence I haven’t done in a very long time. Hafiz is a very famous Persian poet, and a fahll is a tradition in Iran and practiced by Persians everywhere, where you make a wish or ask a question and then open your copy of his poems, and whichever verse your eye lands on, that is the answer to your problem.
There are times when the writing in the novel, given that it is a debut novel, is a little rough (that is what cost it a fifth star from me), but the plotting is excellent, the characters are fairly sound, and the cultural aspects outstanding. Overall, I definitely recommend this one, and would like to thank my reading friend Regina for her strong recommendation of this one for me. You were right, Regina, this was a great book for me! I am happy to report that although the author is currently working on something else, he does plan to write a sequel at some point in the future.