Sep 2, 2009

Interview with Mahbod Seraji, Author of Rooftops of Tehran

Mahbod Seraji, author of Rooftops of Tehran, kindly took time out of his schedule to answer a few interview questions.

If you missed my glowing review of Rooftops of Tehran, you should check it out. It is one of the best books I've read this year.

Please give Mahbod Seraji a warm welcome.

In Rooftops of Tehran, you chose to tell the story of an adolescent boy. Was there a particular reason why you chose this protagonist as opposed to telling the story from the point of view of Pasha's father or that of the Doctor?

Well, the choice of the narrator and his/her voice is one of the most critical decisions an author makes.

I wanted to make sure that the story was told through the unbiased eyes of a smart but inexperienced 17 year old. I think the readers identify with Pasha because they understand his struggle to make sense of all the senselessness that is happening around him. Together they are surprised and stunned as to how cruel life can be under a despotic, repressive regime, and I think that common struggle is what endears Pasha to the readers.

Iran in the 1970s was considered an enemy of the United States and Iranians thought the United States supported the tyrannical regime at the time, but yet Iranians still dream of escaping to the land of opportunity. Was this dichotomy intentional in Rooftops of Tehran or something that emerged on its own?

Iran became an enemy of the United States at the very end of the decade and after the 1979 revolution. Prior to that, the two countries were considered strong allies. There was a huge number of American expats living in Iran before the Islamic Revolution and a large population of Iranians living in the states. So the relations between our countries were great at one time.

Now, in 1953, the U.S. government overthrew a democratically elected prime minister (Mossadegh), replanted the Shah who was ousted by the people, and created, with the help of CIA, the SAVAK agency which perused, arrested, tortured and even murdered anyone who opposed the Shah. So the events of 1953 became the impetus for a deeply rooted mistrust of the United States not only in Iran, but also in the entire Middle East.

To give your readers a perspective on whether that’s a legitimate gripe, imagine Canada coming to the states and overthrowing President Obama or President Bush, when he was president, and planting a
puppet regime here and keeping that regime in power by creating a brutal force that severely punished people opposing it. How would we feel about Canada? That scenario would be inconceivable to any American, right? Well, that scenario is exactly what happened in Iran.

As for the second part of your question: There weren't many universities in Iran in the 1970s to accommodate the increasing number of high school graduates and so it was just an accepted practice for many to come to the states, go to Canada, England, France, and Australia for education. In Rooftops, I picked the United States because of the historical connection between our countries.

Did your experiences in Iran inform your depiction of them in your novel, and could you pinpoint a scene or two that are most representative of your memories?

Rooftops of Tehran is a highly fictionalize semi-autobiography!! In fact if the characters in the story read the book they would recognize themselves. Of course I changed some of the names, dates, and even descriptions of people and events for obvious reasons but much of the story is based on actual personal experiences. The school scenes, by the way, are totally accurate, and funny, I’m always told.

If you want to hear more from Mahbod Seraji, check out my D.C. Literature Examiner page.

Also, please check out Mahbod Seraji's Website.


Anna said...

I have no knowledge of Iranian and U.S. relations, so I found that part of the interview particularly fascinating. I'm glad you pushed your copy of Rooftops on to me, and I hope to find time to read it soon. Going to check out the rest of the interview now.

Diary of an Eccentric

Serena said...

I find his answers fascinating, particularly about Iran and its relations with the U.S. I knew we had messed around in that nation and that the nations used to be friendly....but I had no idea that the puppet regime existed or hampered relations

Julie P. said...

I have been wanting to read this book anyway based on your review. Now this interview seals it! Great job!

Jo-Jo said...

What a great interview Serena! I've been wanting to read this one for awhile, and now I'm thinking that I should probably suggest it to my book club. The example he gave of Canada overtaking the US really helps to put things in perspective.

bermudaonion said...

I really want to read this book because I have a vague recollection of the events of the Iranian Revolution. There were a lot of Iranian students at the school I was going to and I remember their protests, etc. I really didn't pay that much attention to what was going on, I'm sorry to say.

Serena said...

Julie: You should check out this book at the library or buy it though my Indiebound links. I highly recommend this novel.

Jo-Jo: This would have a lot for book club's to discuss. There are a number of layers and events that warrant discussion. I highly recommend it.

Bermudaonion: If you know anything about Iran or don't, it won't matter with this book. It sucks you in. Loved this.

As a side note, Paul Samuleson from Sourcebooks said this book made him cry as well. (Sorry to out you Paul, though you did tweet about it)

naida said...

Great interview. I need to check out Rooftops of Tehran.

Jeannie said...

I have a great respect for the Iranian culture, and so I am very interested in reading this book. Thanks for letting me know about it.

Anonymous said...

Great questions...and interesting answers. I especially liked finding out it's a highly fictionalized semi-autobiography. I always wonder about that.

Andreea said...

Great interview!

Iliana said...

Really enjoyed the interview, Serena! I have the book on my list and actually I'm going to recommend it to one of my best friends. She's from Iran and her family came to the U.S. in the early 80s so I'm sure this book would resonate with her.

Rebecca :) said...

Interesting interview! I really liked hearing about Iranian and U.S. relations from the 70s. I have this one on my list to read and the interview intrigued me even further.