Revolutionary sparks ignite pages
Imagine living in a world defined by politics, where everything you eat, every event you go to, and even your parents’ jobs revolve around the current political state of the world.
Pretty insane, right?
Saïd Sayrafiezadeh’s debut memoir, When Skateboards Will be Free, is such a tale. Sayrafiezadeh chronicles his life as the son of a couple deeply involved with the Socialist Workers Party, a group dedicated to the publishing of magazines, informing onlookers about what is going on in the world from an extreme leftist standpoint. His father left his mother in order to spread the word about the Party across the country, and then later across the world.
While for the most part Sayrafiezadeh’s memoirs are loosely interconnected, the reader can’t help but empathize with the narrator as he switches seamlessly from relating how he used to steal things at his mother’s behest as a way of rebelling against capitalism to his current life as a graphic designer for Martha Stewart products. His stories are certainly comedic, and are retold by a narrator who can still channel and sympathize with his younger self without falling prey to its delusions.
For most of the book, though, while new events are being brought to light in Sayrafiezadeh’s life, one gets the sense that everything has been mentioned before. It is possible to argue that one could get almost as equal a scope of the book by reading the first few chapters as by reading it in its entirety. Sayrafiezadeh conveys the feeling early on of a perplexed, somewhat wistful adult looking back on his younger years and wondering what happened.
Since he was a young child, politics had long been a part of Sayrafiezadeh’s life. His mother and father regularly attended meetings of the Socialist Workers Party, and Sayrafiezadeh would often accompany his mother as she attempted to sell copies of the party magazine, The Militant, to passersby on the busy Pittsburgh streets.
The memoir almost seems to be more of a record of his mother’s life than his own at times, as their lives are so closely intertwined. Having been left by her husband as he journeys around the Middle East to campaign for socialism, Sayrafiezadeh’s mother, Martha Harris, finds herself deserted by her two older children as well as they begin to mature and grow out of her increasingly political lifestyle. With Sayrafiezadeh the only child remaining, she pins her revolutionary hopes on him, toting him along to meetings, forums, and social events with comrades.
Through the book, Harris begins a slow descent into depression. At first willing herself to be strong after being abandoned by her husband for his politics, she remains married to the man for 30 years, but keeps the telephone off its receiver so that no calls can come through at night, the time when Sayrafiezadeh’s father would call from Iran. Later, Sayrafiezadeh begins to suspect that his mother has been hiding letters addressed to him from his father and saving them in her dresser drawer. His father, meanwhile, on his occasional visits to the United States, addresses Sayrafiezadeh as more of an acquaintance than a son, often trying to get him to subscribe to socialist magazines.
As the years wear on, the fervor that Harris instilled in Sayrafiezadeh begins to die out. Eventually, an adult Sayrafiezadeh finds himself in a conversation with his significant other, Karen, in which he is unable to define what exactly socialism is. This marks a turning point for Sayrafiezadeh, as he then begins to justify his beliefs for himself, breaking from the party line. Harris, however, finds herself more and more removed, both from her husband and, by association, from the Socialist Workers Party. At the suggestion of her therapist, she sends in her letter of resignation, and lapses into depression, overdosing on her medication in an attempt to end her misery.
While the book’s overall tenor may not vary from cover to cover, the experiences highlighted within provide a fresh perspective on the depth to which politics can rule a life. When Skateboards Will be Free is again just as much a story about Sayrafiezadeh as it is about his mother, and the two lives interwoven provide a stark commentary on how politics can influence and shape a life, and how very strange and unfulfilled that life can become.