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When Skateboards Will Be Free: A Memoir of a…

When Skateboards Will Be Free: A Memoir of a Political Childhood

by Said Sayrafiezadeh

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I was unprepared for just how good this book was going to be. I plowed through it in a little over a day and it is full of underlined passages and notes in the margins now. Sayrafiezadeh is a very good writer and his story is heartfelt and fascinating. I got really caught up in reading about the politics of the times, not only those of the SWP and our dealings with Iran, but also with those of the Civil Rights Movement and how things like desegregation and busing fit into Sayrafiezadeh’s narrative.

Read more: http://btweenthecovers.com/2011/07/05/when-skateboards-will-be-free/ ( )
  Heather_BTC | Jul 27, 2012 |
This memoir was painfully honest and suprisingly rather bleak despite the amusing title. The story of young Said's life as the child of two Socialists was leavened by humor but this reader for one wondered how any adults could so selfishly ignore the needs of their own progeny in favor of the abstract needs of the people. Neither of Said's parents appeared to be fit caretakers for this sensitive child, and his ability to survive and even thrive in that environment is a testimony to his strength of personality. This book is full of hard truths about prejudice, political agitation, and family dysfunction. Highly recommended! ( )
2 vote ForeignCircus | Jan 12, 2010 |
I'm not usually one for stories involving politics but I really enjoy memoirs so I read it anyway. It was actually really good and I had a hard time putting it down. It really did surprise me and I have actually recommended it to a few people already. ( )
  DJLunchlady91404 | Jul 19, 2009 |
"When Skateboards Will Be Free" is an intriguing memoir about being raised in an idealistic family, that is a little misguided in their priorities. The author describes his politically-charged and dysfunctional childhood in an honest and almost childlike manner. He is not afraid to share his funny and sometimes disturbing experiences, even when he writes about himself. This is an excellent book. I highly recommend it. ( )
  reina10 | Apr 30, 2009 |
Said Sayrafiezadeh was the third child of two members of the Socialist Workers Party who grew up living alone with his mother following the departure of his Iranian father. But what kind of childhood do you have when your mother is a committed communist and you live in capitalist, imperialist USA? The answer - a childhood filled with protest marches, self-denial of consumer goods, a series of dilapated homes, no grapes or skateboards and a ingrained ability to trot out the party line.

Once Said asked for a skateboard - a measly $11 skateboard. His mother did not buy him one because when the revolution came all skateboards would be free. That little story is the essence of this sad, miserable tale of a childhood dominated by the author's parents political manifestos. His mother's bookshelves were lined with the entire works of the Communist canon but they never had been read. Late in life, as he relates a conversation with his girlfriend, he realises that he cannot distinguish between Communism and Socialism, although political slogans are branded into his brain. Ironically he now works for the Marta Steward corporate empire, somewhat at odds with the political ideas of his childhood.

A large portion of the book is devoted to the author's father, a mathematics professor who left the States to return to Iran where he attempted to spread the socialist work and who was a candidate for the Iranian presidency following the departure of the Shah. He comes across as an uncaring man who only infrequently communicates with his son.

Ultimately though, you feel a tremendous amount of sympathy for Said and indeed for his mother. Late in her life, she makes the enornmous decision to leave the Socialist party, but it is clear to see that life has passed her by and she appears as a tragic, lonely figure. In fact the whole memoir (subtitled A Memoir of a Political Childhood) is incredibly poignant. There is a dark humour present, but overall it is quite grim. ( )
1 vote dudara | Apr 26, 2009 |
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To Karen Mainenti and Steven Kuchuck for their optimism
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My father believes that the United States is destined one day to be engulfed in a socialist revolution.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0385340680, Hardcover)

Amazon Best of the Month, March 2009: While images of athletic and Hollywood celebrity decorated the rooms of his classmates, the walls of Said Sayrafiezadeh's youth were adorned with fierce glares from heavily-bearded revolutionaries. As the son of an Iranian father and Jewish-American mother--two souls united by a commitment to an impending socialist revolution--young Said spent his childhood working to make the comrades proud. He hawked the movement's rag, embraced a moniker of "the little revolutionary," and even embarked on a confusing trip to Cuba to spark his political awareness. Despite the seriousness of his cause, When Skateboards Will Be Free describes a politically-charged childhood with an innocence that forces smiles in unexpected places and reveals the heartache of a home soaked in idealism. The arrival of a socialist state not only promised to bring skateboards in bubblegum-bright colors to the masses; it also pledged to repair the rifts within Sayrafiezadeh's own home. - Dave Callanan

Exclusive Amazon.com Q&A with Said Sayrafiezadeh

We caught up with the author of When Skateboards Will Be Free to discuss his present-day perspective, writing influences, and politically charged father.

Has your childhood caused you to embrace or run from politics today?

I have a difficult time thinking for myself when it comes to politics. Considering what my childhood was like I suppose this is a natural consequence. I try to stay up on the news as much as I can but I’m wearied by a lot of it. I’m also uneasy. Especially around election time when my anxiety is inflamed by the extreme urgency of both Democrats and Republicans. As a little boy, politics moved at a feverish pace. According to the Socialist Workers Party the world was always on the verge of total collapse, and it was up to us to do everything in our power to forestall that collapse. So as an adult I try to live above the fray as much as I can. My wife and I recently went to Washington D.C. for a week’s vacation. We took every tour we could: The Supreme Court, the House, the Senate, even the Pentagon. It was fascinating to actually visit these places that I had only ever seen at demonstrations. I found that I had a lot of respect and admiration for our political process. But this was countered by a certain amount of guilt, and, rightly so, reproof at some of the more egregious misrepresentations of American history. I have a curious relationship to my country that I haven’t entirely sorted out yet.

How do you feel about the revolutionary heroes of your youth - Castro and Che, for example - as an adult?

I have a soft spot in my heart for them. I think I always will. Castro, Che, Malcolm X. These were the main revolutionary figures for me when I was a child. I considered them less like heroes and more like family. And I don’t think I’m overstating that. In fact, at times they were more personal to me than my family. Certainly more personal than my father whom I didn’t really get to know until I was eighteen. They acted as stand-ins for him. Even though Che and Malcolm X were already dead by the time I was born, I saw them as living, breathing companions, and I imagined that they were working to rescue me and my mother somehow. I felt comforted by this. Even to this day I cringe when I hear disparaging comments about them. But I’m able to handle criticism about my father.

You recall some very personal memories in this book. Would it have been easier to fictionalize the names and dates and write a debut novel?

Probably. But that’s not what motivated me to write this story. I was driven by a desire to have the truth be known precisely as it had occurred. To fictionalize it would have been an act of cowardice. The Socialist Workers Party has always prided itself on speaking out regardless of the consequences. In many ways I’ve become the ideal party member. That’s the irony.

Who has influenced your writing the most? There is no shortage of eloquent thinkers in your family.

I don’t really know. Perhaps it’s a combination of things. The theatre had a big impact on me, for one. I acted in plays as a child and I was profoundly affected by the experience of dramatizing events. And my uncle, Mark Harris, was a successful author, so I saw that it was something that was possible to do. On the other hand, my mother was consistently frustrated in her desire to be a writer. I would often see her working on short stories or taking classes. She had little or no success, but at least writing was a part of our household. I knew she had other aspirations besides socialist revolution.

How has your father reacted to When Skateboards Will Be Free?

In the fall of 2005, I published an essay in Granta about my childhood, and which ended up becoming the foundation for this book. My father hasn’t spoken to me since then. I’m sure he was offended by what I said about him and the Socialist Workers Party. Maybe he was also mortified about the consequences of his abandonment. I’d like to think so. My father’s still a leading member of the Socialist Workers Party, and his reaction has not been much of a surprise since politics have always trumped family. Which is essentially what my memoir is about. So in some ways my point has been proven.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:25:19 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

With a gift for capturing the absurd in life, and a deadpan wisdom that comes from surviving a surreal childhood in the Socialist Workers Party, Saïd Sayrafiezadeh has crafted an unsentimental, funny, heartbreaking memoir. Saïd's Iranian-born father and American Jewish mother had one thing in common: their unshakable conviction that the workers' revolution was coming. Separated since their son was nine months old, they each pursued a dream of the perfect socialist society. Pinballing with his mother between makeshift Pittsburgh apartments, falling asleep at party meetings, longing for the luxuries he's taught to despise, Saïd waits for the revolution that never arrives, while his long-absent father quixotically runs as a socialist candidate for president in an Iran about to fall under the ayatollahs. Then comes the hostage crisis, and Saïd is suddenly forced to confront the combustible stew of his identity.--From publisher description.… (more)

» see all 2 descriptions

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