Sepehr Haddad is the grandson of composer Nasrosoltan Minbashian who was the director of the Iranian Conservatory (Tehran Conservatory of Music). Sepehr is also a Universal Music Group (UMG) recording artist, with the Billboard chart-topping duo "Shahin & Sepehr." He lives in the Washington DC metro area.
A family secret revealed 40 years ago by a grandmother to her grandson is now an acclaimed Russian historical fiction novel. "A Hundred Sweet Promises" is the tale of the author’s grandfather, Nasrosoltan, a famed composer, who on the eve of World War I travels from Persia to Russia to study classical music at the St. Petersburg Conservatory with such masters as Rimsky-Korsakov. While there, Nasrosoltan falls in love with a Romanov princess, but the royalty surrounding him considers this a forbidden love. Unexpectedly, the Tsar gets involved, and Nasrosoltan suddenly finds himself in a battle between head and heart while being carried forward on a wave of destiny toward an uncertain future. A novel based on a true story set against the backdrop of the final days of Imperial Russia.
“Love,” I cried, “a little pity show to me, a hapless stranger, poor and lonely in Love’s City.” But she answered: “Foolish stranger, yours the fault, not mine, for losing thus your way.’ ‘tis your own choosing, blame not me, O tiresome stranger.” Once more, O HAFIZ, dawns the morning cup, another day in which to seek her face! Patience! The day will come, in some strange place, when thy strong hands her veil at last lift up.
A secret revealed begins the story of a forbidden love... a story told from a grandmother to her grandson, and not just any grandson – this story is written by the actual grandson of the main character – a true story of a rise to fame, and the rise and fall of destiny in a lush, rich, heart-wrenching true love story between Nasrosoltan Minbashian, a noted Persian composer, and Princess Irina Alexandrovna, the niece to Tsar Nicholas II. A story never known until now, and a story not to be missed.
In an exquisite symphony of words, Mr Haddad relays the rise of his grandfather, Nasrosoltan, as he leaves his homeland in pre-WW1 Persia (Iran) and travels to St Petersburg Russia to begin training at the music conservatory alongside masters such as Rimsky-Korsakov. His entire focus is music and he is a natural savant on the piano, with dreams of reaching the heights of Stravinsky and Schubert. Along the way, he is befriended by a wealthy businessman, Rustam, whose quick wit and profound words of wisdom aid Nasrosoltan along his journey; and the two share deep discussions along with their fair share of vodka, cards, and roulette. He is also befriended by his landlady, Madame Lazar, a piano tutor whose skill has brought her to the attention of the Grand Duke and his wife as a tutor to their daughter, Irina.
But Nasrosoltan’s youth and inexperience lead him along the path of fate, first stepping in as he is entranced with the worldly-wise Madame Shamsi, whose continental flair, French-style, and red lips lure him into a romantic attachment... and an ultimate broken heart, sending him determined never to find himself lured by any woman, ever again.
But as his friend Rustam reminds him, you must play the cards dealt to you, and after an unexpected loss at a gaming table, an accident involving Madame Lazar, and an incident with an adorable French bulldog, Nasrosoltan finds himself at the Grand Duke’s palace as a temporary replacement and tutor to the Princess Irina.
What takes place is nothing short of a perfect love story built on youthful dreams, innocent ideals of love, and looking beyond the man-made titles of nobility and privilege. Love maybe blind, but love looks beyond such things – and Nasrosoltan and Irina’s story reveals this truth in a beautiful and eloquent way.
Already this novel is being compared to Chekhov, Tolstoy, and Pushkin, but I would venture to add another famous Russian novelist into the mix – Boris Pasternak – for in the story I saw the reflection of the rich and meaty tale of Doctor Zhivago, which blends the turbulence of the political arena at the precipice of the Great War and the Russian Revolution with the lovely refrains of young love and the dreamy world of an artist in search of escape where love reigns supreme. Zhivago’s love of poetry and his homeland is overshadowed by reality, just as Nasrosoltan’s love of music along with his love of both Russia and Iran is brought face to face with the harsh reality of his station in life – face to face with Tsar Nicholas, himself, in a confrontation and pronouncement of love as to place this book firmly alongside those classic Russian novels as a contender for pure, exquisite literature.
“True love creates rather than devastates.”
The sheer intelligence of the author’s words and the ability to offer this story as if you are listening to Schubert’s own work of Fantasie is breath taking – the easy beginning building to the climactic crescendo, and finishing with the unexpected heartbreaking final notes – and yes, if you are lover of luxuriant Russian novels, the golden world of the Romanov’s and the incredible history of Iran during the reign of the Shahs, then this book is one that will go down in history as a classic in the making.
And if ever a book needed to be made into a movie, this is it for it offers all the elements of a perfect historical romance melding together the powerful lessons taught as a result of the political upheaval and national unrest which grew to a frenzy against the Russian nobility of that time.
I cannot even begin to relay all the beautiful passages presented in this novel, but here are just a few of my favorites:
“Even though they could not look at each other while playing four hands, their hands communicated as if they were in private, shutting out the gaze of any would-be spectator. Accidentally placed fingers brushing against each other created brief moments of contact between them, in a safe place, where such touching and nearness were permitted.” - For the author to take the simplicity of sitting side by side on a piano bench, the intimacy of their fingers touching as they play the keys, and render such passion in the words as the music fills the air around these two young people is nothing short of genius.
Nasrosoltan found himself fixated by a Henri Matisse painting, Harmony in Red. The painting had a magnetic pull, drawing him in closer. He sat down in front of this sizeable oil-on-canvas masterpiece and carefully spent time studying the bright red colors and the rhythms of the foliage patterns. For some reason, this particular painting had a powerful effect on his sensibilities, distracting him from his recent troublesome thoughts. As he studied the intricate details of this work, it was as if he could almost hear the painting... the similarities between music and painting... shared principles of rhythm, harmony, and balance. - As artists of the written word, an author’s job is to paint a beautiful masterpiece for the reader, and Mr Haddad has done this in the most superlative way, composing words like a symphony, using the shared principles of rhythm, harmony, and balance like playing upon a piano or the strokes of a brush over a canvas. He instructs us how to write a historical novel, and the lesson is one that can be read again and again – and for my part, as I not only read this novel, but listened to the audio version, I was glad to sit in the audience as this masterpiece unfolded, and I stand with a shout of applause, a standing ovation, shouting “Bravo, Mr Haddad, bravo!!”
The Historical Fiction Company awards “A Hundred Sweet Promises” by Sepehr Haddad a resounding five stars and the “Highly Recommended” award.