review: rooftops of tehran

20 January 2018

book info:
on sale: now
copy from: public library
pages: 348
review written: 21.12.17
originally published: 2009
edition read: Penguin NAL 2009

title: Rooftops of Tehran
author: Mahbod Seraji

In a middle-class neighborhood of Iran's sprawling capital city, 17-year-old Pasha Shahed spends the summer of 1973 on his rooftop with his best friend Ahmed, joking around one minute and asking burning questions about life the next. He also hides a secret love for his beautiful neighbor Zari, who has been betrothed since birth to another man. But the bliss of Pasha and Zari's stolen time together is shattered when Pasha unwittingly acts as a beacon for the Shah's secret police. The violent consequences awaken him to the reality of living under a powerful despot, and lead Zari to make a shocking choice...

my thoughts:

This book was first published in 2009 and I remember adding it to my list around that time but never actually reading it since I preferred checking out library books to buying them (a child's allowance is often not enough to cover a single book). I decided I would wait until the library got a hold of a copy in order to read it. Now, eight years later, I am finally writing the review for this book.

The book takes place in a small Iranian neighbourhood where everyone knows everyone. The main character, Pasha, is a remarkably intelligent and well read boy, was relatable in every way. Perhaps his young age allowed him to show qualities we all have but try to suppress or its just the nature of his character, but Pasha's growth through love, jealousy, and pain was well expressed. I think because it's from the perspective of a boy, the narrative was easily understood, almost like a young adult novel. Not to mention, Pasha's education made him a little more "Western" compared to the others such that he shared similar views. For example, and this is a point made in the book, Pasha criticises Iranians for "falling in love" upon sight instead of getting to know the other person first. He pursues romance the same way a Westerner would. While this made it easier to understand from my own perspective, I wished that I could've glimpsed an entirely Iranian point of view. While the book was written about Iran pre-revolution, I felt as if it was written for Westerners. This may not necessarily be a bad thing, as I still enjoyed the book, but I think there could be a lot of improvement.

My favourite part about the book was not actually the story or the characters, rather the setting and the time period. Seraji attempts to illustrate a scene of Tehran before the Iranian Revolution, before Iran became the way it is now. Tehran is a modern city full of houses with yards and pools and young scholars, homes of wives making tea, and school children playing games in the streets. The best of Rooftops of Tehran may actually be the most subtle element of story telling - setting. Here's the first few sentences of the book:

"Sleeping on the food in the summer is customary in Tehran. The dry heat of the day cools after midnight, and those of us who sleep on the rooftops wake with the early sun on our faces and fresh air in our lungs" 

As I was reading, I inadvertently compared the book to a watered down, young adult Iranian "The Kite Runner." It's an unfair analysis, as Rooftops had be reading almost without break until the very end. I got so eager with the pace of the plot that I skipped only a few pages to realise I needed to read every single word carefully to understand. It's an exciting and quick read unlike The Kite Runner, which was exciting but far more literary.

Overall, this book was decent but it didn't impress me too much. I'd recommend it to younger readers or simply curious readers who are looking for something entertaining and cultural. I'll give it three umbrellas.

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