I read Rooftops of Tehran on recommendation from my friend, who had to read it for a university-wide literature assignment. First of all, I loved the idea of a book that an entire university had to read regardless of major or school, and I loved even more that this was the book assigned. Rooftops of Tehran is a sensitive, poetic love story that combines immense hope and dire tragedy with an accurate portrayal of Iran’s politically volatile atmosphere in the mid-70s. It taught me about ancient Persian culture and the political history of Iran, all the while offering beautiful truths on love and the universality of the human condition.
People do amazing things for love. Books are full of wonderful stories about this kind of stuff, and stories aren’t just fantasies, you know. They’re so much a part of the people who write them that they practically teach their readers invaluable lessons about life.
Amen, sister friend. Rooftops of Tehran is about a seventeen-year-old boy, Pasha Shahed, from Tehran living under the reign of the Shah in 1973. He’s a romantic at heart and ambitious as well: he wants to move to America to attend college and become a doctor. On the rooftop of his home, he meets his best friend Ahmed and debates politics, talks about the literature he loves, and dreams about his passion for film. He also cherishes a deep love for his neighbor, Zari, who has been engaged since birth to a distinguished man known as Doctor. Pasha respects Doctor even as he envies him, and Pasha becomes attracted to Doctor’s subversive political ideology.
Disaster strikes when the SAVAK, the secret police, track the whereabouts of the politically inflammatory Doctor and murder him. Zari is grief-stricken, Pasha feels guilty, and the death of this man provides the emotional subtext of the relationship that blossoms between Pasha and Zari. It’s a relationship characterized by the pangs of first love all adolescents can relate to, but in this political landscape, their love is decidedly not light-hearted. Both must learn about themselves and what they believe in. They must choose a place for themselves within this cultural and political framework, and sometimes the consequences prove deadly.
Pasha’s voice and emotional monologue are what makes this novel magical. He has a poetic soul and a touch of naiveté that makes him endearing, and the love he has for Zari is innocent and tender. It’s a pure pleasure to read. I enjoyed learning more about Persian culture and the history of Iran when I read this book, and it shed a little light on a culture much misunderstood in the Western world, perhaps understandably so. More than anything else, Rooftops of Tehran proves that human experience spans across nations and cultures, uniting us all in a common thread of duty, fear, and love.
I think of her in a desert of loneliness while I’m abroad, and an idea forms. “If you feel lost,” I say, pulling her close once more, “look to the sky and you’ll see us there, together.”
I know your star, but which one’s mine?” she asks, letting her weight sink into me for just a moment.
“The biggest, brightest one.”
“That’s you,” she corrects.
“That’s us,” I whisper. “We share the same star.” (345)
Seraji, M. (2009) Rooftops of Tehran. New York, NY: Penguin.