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Aria Hardcover – May 7, 2007
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.
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
Top customer reviews
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." There, at last, Jasmine's transformational journey comes full circle as the grieving woman makes peace with the parents who never met their grandchild. Slowly, the healing begins.
Bearing such enormous loss, Jasmine undertakes a reevaluation of her life through the months of her travels, examining the most precious relationship she has known, those she has lost to death or neglect and those still treasured for their patience and unconditional love. Over the miles Jasmine explores the countries that so affect a change in her broken spirit, the generous people, traditions, celebrations and joy of the communities that welcome this woman, each place healing and sustaining, each the venue of introspection and forgiveness. Remarkable and hopeful, Aria is rich with the emotional depths of loss and the regeneration of kindness, the small comforts that make the future viable once more, peace a reality. Luan Gaines /2007.
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."
Still reeling from the shock, Jasmine treks across the world--working in Guatemala and meditating in Tibet. Eventually, she finds herself in Iran visiting the parents who turned their backs to her a number of years ago. There, she discovers her family history and finds true inner strength.
Aria is written as a series of letters to Dottie, Aria, Justin and Jasmine's deceased grandmother. Several letters and essays from Dottie and the teen driver who took Aria's life are included in the novel to fill in background information. Though these expository pieces are essential to the novel's plot, the letters at times sound forced and the flow of the letters make the novel choppy. Despite this, though, Jasmine's outpouring of grief shines through as only a mother's loss can.
Like an operatic aria, Assefi's expose' of Jasmine's relationships are lyrical and passionate. But also like an aria--an elaborate melody sung solo with accompaniment--Jasmine realizes she has a strong backbone of friends and family she can turn to.
Armchair Interviews says: This is a promising first novel for Assefi, a health specialist-cum-writer.
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I thought I had grieved as much as possible when my daughter died 6 years ago (for we had known for some years...Read more