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Aria Hardcover – May 7, 2007

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Devastated by the accidental death of her five-year-old daughter, Aria, and still mourning for Aria's father, Justin, who died months before Aria's birth, Iranian-American Yasaman (Jasmine) Talahi embarks on a somber voyage of grief, with mixed results for Assefi's debut. From Arizona's Sonoran desert to the maize fields of Guatemala (where Aria's father had been a Peace Corps worker) to the holy places of Tibet, Jasmine, an oncologist schooled in rationality, searches for the spiritual enlightenment that might bring about her own healing. In the end, her yearlong odyssey brings her to Iran and to her parents, who reject her modern American lifestyle and with whom she has not spoken since before Aria's birth. Assefi, herself an Iranian-American physician, employs an awkward epistolary format, having Jasmine write to Aria, to Justin, to her long-dead grandmother, to friends and an ex-lover (some of whom write back). The letters are often stiffly formal, and the background information reads as forced. But Assefi's themes—loss as physical distance and the spiritual harm that can result from solitary grieving—come through. (May)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Her Iranian parents disowned Seattle oncologist Jasmine Talahi, who was born and raised in the U.S., for living with American Justin Avery and conceiving a child out of wedlock, her daughter Aria. They remained adamant not only when Justin died before Aria was born but even when, five years later, Aria was killed by a reckless driver. Feeling battered by repeated losses, Jasmine takes time off at a friend's Sonoran Desert vacation home. She writes her best friend, Dottie, that she wants to go to Guatemala, where Justin served in the Peace Corps. When there, she begins writing unmailed letters to Justin, Aria, and her deceased grandmother, and also letters-cum-journal-entries to Dottie and Alexander, a former lover. Obtaining little solace, she travels to Tibet for months at a nunnery. Not until a family reunion in Iran does she find a measure of peace. Despite spreading itself too thinly over such weighty issues as loss, grief, and estrangement from one's parents and heritage, Assefi's uneven epistolary novel is a promising first effort. Donna Chavez
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Harcourt; 1 edition (May 7, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0151012938
  • ISBN-13: 978-0151012930
  • Product Dimensions: 8.6 x 5.6 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,142,817 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Nassim Assefi, a 2nd generation Iranian-American immigrant, is an internist specializing in women's health and global medicine. Most recently, she has been an academic in Seattle, a humanitarian aid worker in Kabul, and an aspiring musician in Havana. When not abroad, she lives in Seattle. She is a graduate of Wellesley College, University of Washington Medical School, and Harvard's Brigham and Women's residency program. ARIA is her first novel.

Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Iranian-born Jasmine Talahi has made a good life for herself and her daughter, Aria, in Seattle, Clinical Associate Professor of Oncology at the University of Washington, the single mother finally coming to terms with the death of her lover before their marriage and Aria's birth; but when Aria is killed in a senseless accident, Jasmine is unable to sustain this last, terrible blow, leaving Seattle in search of peace, or at least acceptance. First to the Sonora desert, Jasmine begins a series of letters, somewhat comforted by the vast quietude that surrounds her, a landscape that looks as barren as her empty heart.

The letters are compulsive, an unburdening of an impossibly burdened soul: to her Iranian parents, whom she has not seen or spoken with since she shamed the family by choosing a non-Iranian partner and living with him outside wedlock; to her deceased grandmother and confidant, Mamani Joonan; to Justin, her soul mate and Aria's father; to Dot, Jasmine's best friend in Seattle, a "little person" and an Egyptologist; to Alexander, the man who was helping rebuild her life after Justin; and, most poignantly, Aria, only five-years-old when taken from her mother.

Once the journey has begun, Jasmine follows where her heart beckons. After the desert, she travels to Guatemala, where Justin served in the Peace Corps; next is Tibet, China and the tiny meditative nuns, where she witnesses a sky burial. But all along Jasmine is being called by the land of her birth, where identity began, where she might embrace "an ignored heritage". Ultimately, desperate without Aria, Jasmine will unite past with present, her new life with her beginning: "A fierce wind sends my message of remorse across the Himalayas to the foothills of the Elburz Mountains. I follow.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Liana H. Montague on June 6, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Nassim Assefi's novel is compelling, haunting and infinitely believable as she deftly weaves an intricate story through letters from various narrators. Throughout this first novel,the reader is able to witness Jasmine's personal anguish and ultimate transformation as she attemps to come to terms with the untimely death of her partner; her 5-year old daughter Aria's accidental and tragic death; the evolution of a deeper friendship with her loyal best friend, Dottie; the steady, slightly puzzled, devastated devotion of her abandoned lover, Alexander, and Jasmine's parents rejection of all that she has created and all that she has loved. Ms. Assefi takes the reader on an armchair voyage of Jasmine's self-discovery around the world, from maize fields in Guatemala to a silent cave in Nepal and ultimately to Iran, where Jasmine is able to face the transformation of grief through the sprit selves of her daughter and her beloved grandmother, and find an uneasy but necessary reconciliation with her mother and father. A reminder to hold those we love close and cherish our memories.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By L. Eckert on May 7, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Aria, written in the form of letters which tell the story, is gripping and powerful, aptly articulating a parent's deepest grief in losing a child. The path to healing leads through many cultures and geographic locations--described in such clear detail that one can experience all the senses stimulated in day to day existence. Relationships also travel on a journey toward healing, allowing for closure as the novel progresses. Excellent first novel. Any parent, or any who have travelled to Central America or Asia will be cast within the spell of these stories, making the book difficult to set down.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Reluctant Consumer on May 14, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Aria is a straightforward meditation. The novel examines grief by the meandering path of sorrow, joy, hopelessness and wondering.

Following the death of her five-year-old daughter, Aria, a profound loss that nearly six years later follows the death of her lover and the father of the child, Justin, Jasmine can simply no longer face the dailyness of being in the town where her only self, Aria, died. An oncologist, who has faced death with her patients, Jasmine thought she would understand better. But when the monstrous tragedy strikes, when all that is left of family on American soil is taken from her, she flees.

In a series of letters to the important people left to her, living and dead, intimate and removed, the heart of Jasmine pours forth with dignity and grace.

This is a story of looking for meaning, of looking for salvation and faith, of looking for a reason to live. From Guatemala to Lhasa, she is comforted, as in a travelogue--briefly removed from her sorrow as she ponders the newness before her. But as many have found, a geographic gallop does little to assuage the ultimate depths.

It is not until she reaches her parents' native Iran and reunites with them that her personal and cultural history begins to triumph over the deeply personal aloneness.

Aria is, in the long run, a celebration of living. From maize fields to the desert, something is always alive, is always struggling, is always annihilated, is always triumphant. It is this that the reader learns with her. It is this that Assefi brings as a gift to the reader--an open pomegranate, bleeding "the depths of sweetness" after we have "swallowed the sour."
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