One Book author attracts large audience

Caitlin Murphy

 Mahbod Seraji, the author of this year’s One Book Villanova selection, “Rooftops of Tehran,” visited the University Tuesday to discuss his novel. 

This is the fifth year One Book Villanova has been in place. The program commenced in 2005 when the University community read Khalid Hosseini’s “The Kite Runner,” followed in 2006 by “Blood Done Sign My Name” by Timothy Tyson. 

Later selections included Immaculee Illibagiza’s “Left to Tell” in 2007 and last year’s “The Glass Castle” by Jeannette Walls.  

The One Book activities commenced at 1 p.m., when Seraji participated in a public book signing in Falvey Memorial Library. 

At 6 p.m., the University held a One Book Community Dinner in Dougherty Dining Hall. 

The menu included a variety of authentic Iranian dishes including Bademjan and Jooje. 

The day’s festivities concluded after dinner with the presentation of “An Evening with Mahbod Seraji,” which was held in the Villanova Room of Connelly Center. 

In “Rooftops of Tehran,” Seraji depicts the life of Pasha Shahed, a young man growing up in the Iranian capital during the summer of 1973. 

The book details Pasha’s struggles with love, loyalty and the many hardships facing a nation on the path to political and social revoltution. 

While the Iranian Revolution of 1979 is the backdrop of the story, Seraji said that that was not his main focus when writing his novel. 

“In the last 30 years, we have seen such an unbelievable demonization of Iran and Iranians that I wanted to send a message of peace,” Seraji said. “I wanted to talk about love and how Iranians are people just like everyone else.”

People were certainly eagar to hear his message. 

The author’s talk was the culminating event of the evening, and was attended by over 750 people. 

At the presentation, Seraji was introduced by Joseph Lucia, director of Falvey Memorial Library. 

 “One important goal of this program is to foster a campus-wide climate of cultural and intellectual engagement through reading and conversation,” Lucia said. “This book portrays, with a wonderful directness and literalism, the interpretation of private experience in broad historical currency. Through that, it dramatizes the abiding power of a culture’s deep values in a time of great upheaval that is quite similar to our own time.”

Seraji opened with a brief account of his early life.

He recalled how he even contemplated returning to Iran at one point because of the difficulties he faced establishing himself in a new country. 

“I thought ‘I’m going home, I’m definitely going home.’ But I had one of those amazing, ‘It’s a Wonderful Life,’ Jimmy Stewart-type moments,” Seraji said. “I thought about the people who are in this book and thought to myself that if they heard what I was thinking, they would be very ashamed of me. I decided that I was going to stake it out, stay here and make it happen and write a book someday about people who had a profound impact on my life.”

Several years and numerous degrees later, Seraji found himself working for Motorola. 

Over the next two decades, Seraji continued to make his way through the corporate world. 

However, all this changed in 2001, when Seraji found himself without a job after company cutbacks. 

It was then that he seized the opportunity to delve into his true passion and devote more time to writing the book he promised himself he would write so many years before. 

In 2009, “Rooftops of Tehran” was published as his debut novel. 

“I think what I was seeing at the time was that there were so many books coming out about Iran and about the Middle East, and it seemed like in every single one of them the men had 43 wives and they made them chew on rocks for punishment,” Seraji said. “That was not my experience of life in Iran.” 

This warped depiction of his homeland motivated Seraji to paint a different picture for people in the Western world and show them another side of Persians that many may not see frequently. 

“I wanted to write something that talked about love, that talked about loyalty,” Seraji said. “We look at the media’s images that we see; we think that people in that region don’t understand love, don’t understand friendship, don’t understand loyalty.”

Seraji said that he wanted to remind people that Iran is full of real people, and that a persons’ nationality, religious beliefs and cultural experiences do not dehumanize them. 

 “I wanted to make sure that people realize that Iran is a beautiful country full of beautiful people,” he said. 

Seraji currently works as an independent management consultant and resides in the San Francisco Bay area with his wife. 

“Rooftops of Tehran” has received ample praise from many notable sources, including Kirkus Review, Publishers Weekley and Booklist, as well as from a slew of established authors.