Iowa Alumni Magazine | August 2001 | Features

Of Pigs and Prairies

By Dan Zinkand
Rooftops of Tehran by Mahbod Seraji, 81BSCE, 85MA, 90PhD NAL

When he came to Iowa from Iran in 1976, Mahbod Seraji fully expected to return home after gaining his degree from the UI. The upheaval of the Iranian Revolution of 1979 changed his plans, though, and he stayed in the U.S.

Thirty years later, he's finally revisiting his homeland—and examining the revolution—through a semi-autobiographical novel of young love and coming of age in a time of turmoil. Seraji explains, "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."

Selected by an independent booksellers group as one of the "Indie Next" notable picks for this month, Rooftops of Tehran is already drawing comparisons with The Kite Runner.

Visits with the Amish: Impressions of the Plain Life by Linda Egenes with woodcuts by Mary Azarian University of Iowa Press

To compile this warm perspective on Amish life, author Linda Egenes observed her Old Order neighbors in southeast Iowa for 13 years. She quilted at a weekly sewing circle, milked cows, spent time in a one-room schoolhouse, mulched strawberries in gardens.

Egenes takes her readers into the homes and businesses of people who do not fall on the altar of American materialism. Instead, they enjoy simple, peaceful days characterized by kindness, respect, and dignity. She paints an enchanting portrait—supplemented by Caldecott Medal winner Mary Azarian's beautiful woodcuts—of men and women who travel by horse and buggy, who live without electricity or telephones, who place their energy and faith in human relationships.

Sonata Mulattica by Rita Dove 77MFA W.W. Norton

In book-length lyrical narrative, former U.S. poet laureate and Pulitzer Prize-winner Rita Dove recounts the story of a biracial musical prodigy reduced to a little-known footnote in musical history.

Born in 1780 to a Polish German mother and African prince, George Augustus Polgreen Bridgetower was a talented violinist who traveled to Vienna to meet mentor-genius Ludwig van Beethoven. There, he premiered Beethoven's new work—which the composer originally titled "Sonata Mulattica" in dedication to the talented virtuoso. However, when the violinist flirted with a woman of interest to Beethoven, the composer removed his dedication—and therefore Bridgetower's place in public memory.

With various forms of poetic verse and weaving fact with fiction, Dove offers a melancholy account of a boy who contributed to the development of classical music—yet reaped no rewards of recognition or fame.