A star-crossed romance captures the turmoil of pre-revolutionary Iran in Seraji’s debut.
From the rooftops of Tehran in 1973, life looks pretty good to 17-year-old Pasha Shahed and his friend Ahmed. They’re bright, funny and good-looking; they’re going to graduate from high school in a year; and they’re in love with a couple of the neighborhood girls. But all is not idyllic. At first the girls scarcely know the boys are alive, and one of them, Zari, is engaged to Doctor—not actually a doctor but an exceptionally gifted and politically committed young Iranian. In this neighborhood, the Shah is a subject of contempt rather than veneration, and residents fear SAVAK, the state’s secret police force, which operates without any restraint. Pasha, the novel’s narrator and prime dreamer, focuses on two key periods in his life: the summer and fall of 1973, when his life is going rather well, and the winter of 1974, when he’s incarcerated in a grim psychiatric hospital. Among the traumatic events he relates are the sudden arrest, imprisonment and presumed execution of Doctor. Pasha feels terrible because he fears he might have inadvertently been responsible for SAVAK having located Doctor’s hiding place; he also feels guilty because he’s always been in love with Zari. She makes a dramatic political statement, setting herself on fire and sending Pasha into emotional turmoil. He is both devastated and further worried when the irrepressible Ahmed also seems to come under suspicion for political activity. Pasha turns bitterly against religion, raising the question of God’s existence in a world in which the bad guys seem so obviously in the ascendant. Yet the badly scarred Zari assures him, “Things will change—they always do.”
Refreshingly filled with love rather than sex, this coming-of-age novel examines the human cost of political repression.