Friday, January 1, 2010

Book Thirty-Three: Rooftops of Tehran by Mahbod Seraji

Okay, I moved out of my comfort zone this week in my desire to read works from other cultures as well. Still interested in expanding my horizons, but I could have done so without this book. While there are many things to interest one in this book, it is not one which gains my oh-so-sought-after recommendation (like anyone cares).

Rooftops of Tehran offers us an important glimpse into Iran which most of us are not aware of in any real sense. Even now we are reading about the protests and killings happening because of many people's dissatisfaction with the ruling party. Rooftops also takes place during a time of frustration with the government, but this time it is with the Shah (which the U.S. put in power) and the outcome not seen in the book is the eventual overthrow of the government.

Here the time is 1973-74 and we follow the life of four high school students, two boys and two girls, working on the transition to adulthood. Yes, a coming of age story, but when the secret police taking people with reason and erasing their existence, the decisions are a bit more important.

The best part of this book for many non-Iranian readers will be the glimpse into the everday world of Iran. Many of us think of the Iranian woman in a burka as the common standard. But here the burka is worn only by one extremely religious relative, the Masked Angel, in another city. Arranged marriages do exist, but the main one in this novel is broken in the face of true love (Ahmed and Faheemeh) and the love of Zari and Pasha (the two main characters) is welcomed by both sets of parents.

The drama moves forward when Zari's "arranged boyfriend," Doctor, disappears after working as an activist against the government. SAVAK is the name of the secret police force which becomes a character in itself, always watching and controlling people even when they are not sure of when and how. We watch as Zari and the others deal with Doctor's disappearance, while Pasha deals with guilt of loving Zari despite her engagement and also because he is unintentionally responsible for SAVAK catching Doctor.

SPOILER ALERT: Usually I avoid spoilers, but since my biggest frustration with the story comes in the plot direction, allow me to spoil! Doctor is killed in prison and the families are told to not mourn him. Zari is, of course, distraught over his death. However, it is clear throughout the book that she does not love him (she likes him) and that she loves Pasha. So it is surprising and hard to believe when she sets herself on fire on the 40th day of his death (a special time of mourning) while running into the Shah's birthday parade. Not only does she do this surprising act (she is hardly a radical), but she brings Pasha and their friends along to watch -- much to their horror. Pasha ends up in a mental institution (which we knew he would end up in since some chapters take place there, although until this incident we never know why he is there). Zari dies in her protest and Pasha returns home to find that the Masked Angel has moved into Zari's home (they are neighbors) to care for her parents. It takes one meeting with the Masked Angel and her whisper of a voice to figure out that Zari is alive and living in disguise. Why? Well, reasons are given, but none are easy to buy. SAVAK knows she is alive, so why hide it from anyone else? It takes Pasha a while to come to this realization and we wait not so patiently for this to develop. When it does she sends him off to the U.S. to study so he can return to her.

This twist in the plot is unnecessary and way too "cute" to read without frustration. But the anti-climax of the revelation and the reunion of the "lovers" is also not worth the wait. This book makes a good story for the sappy romantics of the world, but they can find better stories than this to entertain them. I could be accused of a romantic leaning (I do love Jane Austen!), but this is too thick for me.

What the book did encourage me to do is learn more about this country I still remember best for holding U.S. embassy employees hostage. I'm getting a non-fiction book on modern-day Iran so I can learn more of its recent history and current state. If Seraji's intent was to interest us in Iran, he is successful. It his intent was to write a great story, maybe the sequel will be better

Reading Challenges
Happy New Year! I'm home with no night work, so finding time was not so hard. This is not a short book (345 pages), but the prose is light and easy to read. The plot drags at time so I was challenged to continue, but I managed to move along. Actually finished it in a few nights and ended my calendar year with 47 books read -- nearly three times what I've "officially" read the last few years (I know I missed a few books each year).

Up Next
The Abstinence Teacher by Tom Perrotta. My oldest son gave this to his sister for Christmas and being the reader she is she read it in a few days. She strongly recommended it to me so if I don't like it she will have to start renting our car every time she wants to use it.

1 comment:

  1. THANK YOU. Everyone is just waxing poetic about how amazing this book is and I just.don' While the story is important like you a lot of the stuff in it was pretty hard to buy, and like you I don't mind the romantic genre in general.