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.