When I first realized that Rooftops of Tehran was very much a romance and not the political novel I thought it would be, I was surprised – but curious.
The truth is, I’ve never read a romance novel set in Iran. Ever. More than that, as a French woman, the only things I do know about Iran – and it’s not much – are painted in a negative light. And I’m gonna say it :
Thinking in the lines of Bad Countries™ versus Good Countries™ is fucking dangerous – because tell me now, if we judge a country – its PEOPLE – on behalf of its leaders’ faults, first we’re flirting with Manicheism like real morons and secondly… well I guess we’re fucking hypocrites?
So, tell me, why does a romance novel – even flawed – is important? Well, Mahbod Seraji‘s words in his author note say it better than I ever would :
“At a time when the country of my birth is often portrayed in the news media as “the enemy,” I chose to tell a story about friendship and humor, love and hope, universal experiences valued by people in all times and places. I wanted to show a side of Iran that’s usually hidden from view – its warm, funny, generous people.”
A day like today, I really think we should sit one second and think about that – even when talking about a far from perfect novel. Because this book? No matter how annoyed I could be at some point, how some details – and more important parts – could have been handled better in my opinion, this novel reinforced this sentiment : guys, I’m sorry if it’s not obvious to you and I don’t want to offense anyone, but I am SICK of the way the whole book community is US/UK/AUS centered, including when it comes to diversity (don’t get me wrong though, reading about and from minorities living in the US is much NEEDED and important and I am willing to read more and more diverse books, we can – need to – do BOTH).
Because, guys! There is a WHOLE WORLD OUT THERE. There are THOUSANDS of writers who don’t write in English, because some people, even writers, *GASP* don’t speak English. MIND. BLOWN. And they are very rarely translated because…. well I guess because it doesn’t interest Americans enough? I don’t know? I kinda think now would be the time to open up and start looking elsewhere, don’t you?
As I said earlier, Rooftops of Tehran is very much a romance…. yet firmly anchored in the real world, that is to say, 1970s Iran. I found fascinating to follow the characters’ struggle because it gave me an insight that otherwise I would not have gotten. When dealing with a different country, especially in the Middle-East/West Asia, we Western countries often focus on their leaders, while here on the contrary the story primarily brought the random citizens’ life to light. This way, we the readers are able to see how the politics influence every part of the everyday of the inhabitants. I loved that because it felt way more real.
A warning though : as I said, it takes place in 1970s Iran. Parts of the narrative brought up by some characters – and if not condoned by the mc, not strongly rejected either – would make me reluctant to recommend it to members or the LGBTQIA community, because if sadly realistic at this period of time, they could still be triggering.
All in all, I was satisfied by the way political matters were tackled, even if I wish some issues wouldn’t have been so IN YOUR FACE. Yet even if the way the US was put on a bit of a pedestal annoyed me at some point, I very much appreciated that their role in helping the Shah keep the power was mentioned.
More than anything else in our world, we need nuances. I know that 2016 taught us that the loudest people would win the day, but we need to resist the urge to express our feelings in snap judgments.
As much as I enjoyed following these characters, I can’t deny that they sometimes lacked complexity, especially the secondary characters. Indeed if Pasha and Ahmed’s friendship was everything (friendship GOAL here), the dynamics between the other characters were too superficial for me to get fully involved. Zari especially made it hard for me to understand her : her decisions – especially near the end – seemed too sudden and all over the place, and I had a hard time suspending my disbelief. She didn’t quite make sense to me? In the same way, the romance was cute but I never really felt 100% involved in it.
As for the writing, some of the dialogues seemed like more lectures than anything else, and I can’t deny that it felt like infodump-ish Iran 101 too. Good thing I had never taken that curse, I suppose, but someone educated on Iran’s history might have found it rather tiring. Yet Rooftops of Tehran was very compelling : albeit simple, and not out-of-world amazing, the writing made the novel extremely readable.
Am I more lenient because of the settings? Maybe I am. Is it really a big deal if I am? I don’t think so? Look, I read so many uninspired romance novels taking place in the US, I sure enjoyed this one more.
Let’s see what you think, shall we?