Publishers Weekly Article 2015

"In My Own Words"

I always knew the title of my memoir had to be the name of the hotel in Iran my father once owned. I share a rare destiny with the Rose Hotel; I was born the day it opened, and our fates are forever linked. Built to accommodate visitors to the holy city of Mashhad—second largest only to Mecca—the hotel was an immediate success. While its attractions were counter to what might entice hotel guests in the West (“No Alcohol, No Music, No Women in Immodest Dress” the ads promised), this was the Middle East, and its proximity to the city’s main holy landmark, the Haram was crucial. The great mosque was topped by a dazzling golden dome that hovered over the Shrine where Imam Reza is buried. It was a dazzling place; at almost 700,000 square feet, its crystalline ceiling soared so high that to a child, it appeared as an alternate sky.

Muslims from all over the world came to Mashhad to make pilgrimage. Many of the most prosperous pilgrims stayed at the Rose Hotel, known for its religious owner—my fatherand his reputation for meticulousness and honesty.

The Haram of Imam Reza meant everything to my family, both spiritually and pragmatically. A complex of seven courtyards, fourteen minarets and fountains, the mosque also housed a museum, a library, and four seminaries. Below, in the catacombs, was the family cemetery. The Haram was the center of our spiritual life and our livelihood. It was also our ultimate destination, we would all be buried there. Its force field was so strong that before we could undertake any journey, my father would drive around it three times in order to stay within its sacred radius and carry its blessed power with us.           

One midnight, during the upheaval of the 1979 Revolution, our lives were forever divided into before and after. During the violent break from the rule of the Shah to the regime of the Ayatollah Khomeini, two horrific crimes occurred: one which my father solved, and the other, of which my 16-year-old brother was accused. Tragedy ensued, and as the Iraq-Iran War began, my grieving family fled—first to London, then to the United States. My father was forced to abandon the Rose Hotel—his life’s work. As a child, I could not understand why our lives and hearts had shattered.

Today, the Rose Hotel—once a gleaming edifice—stands empty, a haunted reminder of what was. But in my story and in my soul, I still inhabit its celebratory rooms and polished marble floors; they compel me to relate the events that occurred there. No matter how far I travel, no matter where I live, the influence of the Haram and the hotel continue to guide me. Its force propels my story.

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