By Mahbod Seraji
Published May 2009 by Penguin
In pre-revolutionary Iran, 17-year-old Pasha is spending the summer on his rooftop with his best friend Ahmed, talking about what teenage boys the world over talk about--the girls they're in love with, their crazy parents, the neighborhood bullies. Pasha is secretly in love with Zari, the girl next door. But Zari has been betrothed to Doctor since they were young children. And Pasha really, really admires Doctor who, as a student many years older, has ideas about the world that Pasha finds compelling. When Doctor goes away for a while, Ahmed hatches a plan to allow Pasha to spend time with Zari (and Ahmed to spend time with the girl he is in love with as well). Despite feeling guilty about being in love with Doctor's future wife, this is a wonderful time for Pasha. But when Doctor sneaks back to the neighborhood late one night, Pasha accidentally gives him away to the Shah's secret police and sets in motion a series of events that will change the lives of everyone in the neighborhood.
This story appealed to me on many levels. It was so interesting to learn more about another part of the world, another culture, another time. Seraji includes in the story the views that many Iranians had of the Americans at the time. They hated the U.S. for their interference in their country and for installing a despot. At the same time, they were entranced with the idea of going to the U.S. and the lifestyle and educational opportunities to be found there. The stories about how dissidents were treated were horrific but not over done and really used to make the reader understand the character' motivations.
The coming-of-age story of both Pasha and Ahmed includes, remarkably, a great deal of humor which makes it feel very realistic and believable as it balances out the heavier elements. The writing is clear but paints a vivid picture of the people and their surroundings.
Seraji's writing can sometimes get a bit cliched and occasionally even flowery. Periodically, the story seemed to drag. But not often and not for long; and, because the overall story was so good, this reader was willing to forgive those flaws.
I read this for my face-to-face book club which will meet to discuss it next week. I anticipate that it will lead to a lively discussion as there is much to talk about in this book. We are looking forward to getting to talk to Mr. Seraji as well; it specifically says in the back of the book that he is available to talk to book clubs.
For an author Q & A and an audio interview, click here.