Synopsis: When Azadeh was an eight-year-old girl growing up in Iran in March 1973, her uncle gave her a chemistry kit. That got her hooked on science early and provided an opportunity for her to find herself. In The Sky Detective, Azadeh shares her life story–one that includes and insider’s look at life during the Islamic Revolution and Iraqi war and details how one little girl grew up to be a gifted scientist.

Set inside Iran in the final years of the monarchy, the author narrates a true story of friendship between two girls growing up in the same household in Tehran: Azadeh, the daughter of an affluent engineer, and Najmieh, a child servant who arrives from a small village in northern Iran to live with Azadeh’s family. When the girls are teenagers, political turmoil interrupts their lives, sending down different paths.

This memoir recalls friendship and faith, the bonds between parents and daughters in a paternalistic society, and the clash of values among relatives from different generations in a family. The Sky Detective describes the rich culture of a beautiful but deeply troubled land undergoing radical transformation. In spite of the hardship that comes along with the establishment of a theocratic regime, Azadeh shows her will and determination as a young woman to persevere and realize her childhood dream of becoming a world renowned scientist.



Kirkus names “The Sky Detective” as one of the Best books of 2015 (Dec. 15, 2015 issue).

 Booklist assigns a star-rating to “The sky Detective”(Dec. 1, 2015 issue).

SF Writers Conference selects “The Sky Detective” as the Grand Prize Winner (Feb. 2012).




In 2001, Azadeh Tabazadeh receives the prestigious Macelwane Medal for her research on polar stratospheric clouds and the causes behind the degradation of the ozone layer. With every great achievement, there is a profound story. In the case of Azadeh, her account goes back to 1973 in Tehran to two life-changing experiences: receiving a chemistry kit from her uncle and developing a close relationship with Najmieh, the family’s housekeeper. Azadeh’s world suddenly turns upside down as her country succumbs to political struggles and calamity strikes her family. When she decides to escape in the hope of making it to America, Azadeh has no idea if she’ll see her family ever again.

Azadeh Tabazadeh shares a powerful story of determination amid despair. Tabazadeh’s first person narrative reflects the perspective of young Azadeh and her passion for learning. Falling in love with chemistry by the age of eight, Azadeh sets her educational sites on becoming a scientist. Tabazadeh not only portrays a child growing up in fun-filled and happy environment, but also a young girl who is slowly coming to terms with the world beyond her blissful bubble when she gets to know Najmieh—a girl from impoverished means.

Tabazadeh’s plot shifts as she paints a drastic portrayal of life in the midst of highly turbulent times. While lacing her text with the driving emotional tension between Azadeh and family members, Tabazadeh’s descriptions reflect a dark tone as Azadeh’s short-lived contentment quickly shatters during the Iranian Revolution (1978), Ayatollah Khomeini’s reign. His full-covering edict for females (ages nine and up), the American Hostage Crisis in Iran, and especially the Iran-Iraq War when Azadeh, her brother, and cousin eventually flee the country.
Engaging readers from chapter to chapter, Tabazadeh’s deft storytelling carefully builds to Azadeh’s harrowing journey to America. Tabazadeh’s punctuates her plot with two aspects—a combination of Azadeh’s pleasant flashbacks and determination to study—that become a means of survival for the seventeen-year-old who is striving for a better life. A stark, yet inspiring, presentation of hope in the midst of hopelessness, The Sky Detective is one gripping page-turner that is a definite must-read by all.

Improvise, child. That’s what makes you become a leader later in life.”

Reviewed by Anita Lock



A well-respected scientist shares her story of life before and during the 70s Iranian revolution, her escape from the country, and her reception of a prestigious award.

In The Sky Detective, Azadeh Tabazadeh receives a chemistry kit from her favorite uncle, sparking a love of science that will eventually lead to her flight from her home country. Tabazadeh grew up in a time of prosperity with wealthy parents and a loving home. As most girls, she loves her family, spending time with friends, and has an infectious love of learning. Unfortunately, the shah is overthrown, and the new regime is violent and bloody. She loses the friendship of her friend, which masterfully highlights the difference in classes. Her schooling, despite some very dedicated teachers, soon falls apart as the new regime begins to oppress women. Tabazadeh is forced to wear the body-covering chador, which is the final straw. She is unable to learn, unable to spend time with her precious friends, and now she cannot be a happy and festive young woman. Her family agrees to let her accompany her brother and cousin as they flee military service. This leads to a tumultuous escape through stark landscapes and corrupt officials. Once free in America, Tabazadeh rises through the ranks to earn the respect of her peers and the recognition from the community at large, even President Clinton.

The main appeal of this memoir is Tabazadeh’s backward-looking narrative. She recounts the story through the POV of a child and young woman, but with the gravity and disappointment of an adult. While remaining firmly in the present moment of her past, The Sky Detective is engaging and captivating. Her journey highlights the nature of a society many Westerners are unfamiliar with, adding a layer of dimension that increases the readability of the memoir. The only downside is the lack of information after she lands in America. It would be fascinating to follow her through earning degrees and the respect of the scientific community. Her infectious curiosity and innate talent shines through the eyes of her younger self and captures readers’ intention for a truly amazing read.

I’m probably imagining the smell rather than inhaling it, because I know the smell of fresh blood comes from the oxidation of iron II (ferrous) to iron III (ferric) once it’s exposed to air. As always, chemistry can take my mind off almost anything, even a gruesome scene like this.”

Reviewed by John Murray



An Iranian scientist, whose accomplishments include a presidential award and working for NASA, shares her enticing story.

In The Sky Detective, author Azadeh Tabazadeh tells an enticing story of growing up in, and escaping, Iran during the Islamic Revolution.

The memoir opens in 2001 as Tabazadeh is about to receive a prestigious medal from the American Geophysical Union, for her outstanding scientific contributions. During her acceptance speech, the then-NASA employee references a gift her uncle gave her in 1973, when she was eight—a chemistry set that would inspire her for the rest of her life. The following chapter jumps back to that year, and begins to detail not only her first experiments with that kit (growing crystals), but also her coming-of-age journey from a fairly comfortable situation in Tehran under the rule of the shah to a cloaked and veiled teenage life after the ayatollah took control in 1979.

Over the years, Tabazadeh learns many lessons that are punctuated with both tinges of sadness and humor. Befriending a servant girl who comes to live with her family teaches Tabazadeh about class differences. Watching as her parents take differing sides in the country’s political scene challenges her to dig deep into her own opinions about morality and gender. And when her parents decide to send her brother to the United States, she takes matters into her own hands and fights for her right to go with him and pursue a better future outside of Iran.

Her childhood story as she tells it is solidly crafted. The writing is strong, the pace engaging. What is missing from this book, however, is what happens after she escapes from Iran to Spain, then flies into Los Angeles International Airport at the age of seventeen with nothing more than a six-month US student visa. So few women have accomplished what she has: earning a PhD from the University of California at Los Angeles, working for NASA, teaching at Stanford University, becoming the feature of an article in Time magazine, and receiving a Presidential White House Award. Understanding her childhood background makes these accomplishments even more intriguing. Leaving her early adult years out of the picture is like ending on a cliffhanger.

Those who gravitate toward true-life coming-of-age tales will enjoy this book. Those who know little about Iran during this time period will appreciate the blend of history with the author’s experiences. Most of all, though, those who come to care for the girl will want to know more about the woman.


BLUEINK REVIEWS (starred review)

An accomplished, award-winning American atmospheric scientist recounts her coming of age against the backdrop of the Iranian revolution in this engaging and deeply perceptive memoir.

Growing up in ‘70s Tehran, Azadeh Tabazadeh was only eight when two unrelated life events made a lasting impact on her: First, Uncle Mahmood gave her a kids’ chemistry kit, a gift that sparked her life-long love of science. Shortly thereafter,11-year-old Najmieh, a village girl from northern Iran, moved in as household help. Their friendship deeply shaped Tabazadeh’s life-long awareness of class and gender differences, and as the author details a fairly affluent girlhood, she adds pithy observations (“we were born in a place where women just don’t get what they want from life”), which serve to emphasize how deeply entrenched societal views can mold even seemingly cloistered lives.

The girls’ friendship eventually ends when Najmieh is shipped back to her village and married and Tabazadeh gets swept up in the tidal forces of the Iranian revolution. (It is telling of the aforementioned class differences that just before marriage, Najmieh looks forward to life with a “handsom husband” and “healtee babies,” while Tabazadeh nurses her dream of becoming the Iranian Marie Curie.)

In crisp, compelling prose, Tabazadeh peppers her account with memories of school and other childhood preoccupations, even as the country undergoes major political upheaval. The author recounts her resistance at the imposition of Shariat, the Islamic law, which forces even teenagers to adopt the veil. “The shah is brutal, but so are these fanatic revolutionaries,” she writes.

The narrative ends rather abruptly as 17-year-old Tabazadeh immigrates to the U.S., leaving one hopeful for another volume detailing the teenager’s assimilation into the American melting pot.

This is a sobering and enlightening glimpse of growing up in the shadow of a revolution — a struggle that merely replaced one kind of oppression with another. Readers of all stripes will appreciate a front seat to the proceedings in The Sky Detective.


 KIRKUS REVIEWS (one of the best books of 2015)

A compelling debut memoir by an accomplished geophysical scientist that offers a vivid look at life in Tehran between 1973 and 1982, before and after the Iranian Revolution.

Tabazadeh was just a few days shy of her eighth birthday in 1973 when her beloved uncle Mahmood gave her a present that would profoundly influence her life: a chemistry set. Tabazadeh was a happy, bright child living the privileged life of a daughter of an affluent family. With the shah still in power, Tehran was primarily a secular city, free of the harsh religious restrictions imposed once the ayatollah came to power. Western music and American movies were popular and clothing styles modern with colorful Persian accents, all of which the author describes in fluid, engaging prose. It was a place where a young girl could dream of one day becoming a famous chemist. When the author’s family brought an 11-year-old girl named Najmieh into the household to work as a servant, even a very young Tabazadeh began to see for the first time the stark contrasts between the educated upper class and the peasant class that made up the bulk of the population. A budding friendship between the two girls galvanized the author to take part in demonstrations against the shah. What she didn’t anticipate was the violence and authoritarian law that replaced the old regime. Her beautiful city was streaked with blood, and Tabazadeh, then a young teenager, was forced to cover her head with a veil and ultimately to cover her whole body in black robes. As she approached her high school graduation, she realized she no longer had a future in Iran. In gripping detail, she describes her dangerous escape to the West, where she has been able to fulfill her aspirations. The narrative is written in the present tense, giving the child/teenager an unlikely adult voice, though the literary device does create a compelling dynamic immediacy. Filled with details of day-to-day life, this volume offers a unique perspective on a country and a people that remain shrouded in mystery for most Westerners.

An authentic firsthand account of troubled times in a tumultuous country.