Novel Approach: An orphan's story is bound with Iranian history in 'Aria'

During the course of our lives we don’t always recognize the significant history that we’re living through in that moment. We don’t think about how the events of a single Tuesday will later become recorded in history books that will be studied by future generations. Instead, we go about living our lives, like our Iranian protagonist does in our latest read.

‘Aria’ by Nazanine Hozar

Nazanine Hozar’s latest novel “Aria” traces the political upheaval in Iran from the 1950s to the late 1970s, when Ayatollah Khomeini came into power, and uses it as a backdrop to tell the story of a young girl with a revolving door of mothers.

When Aria was born, her mother knew she couldn’t give her a good life so she abandoned her in an alley, where a childless man later finds her and raises the child as his own, giving her the name Aria. As Aria grows up, first in a poor area of Tehran and later in an affluent part of the city, the orphaned girl gains a collection of different maternal figures who each carries her own secrets and heartaches.

“Aria” is a sweeping tale that explores class, politics and the shifting culture within Iran as Hozar masterfully tells a story of political upheaval through Aria’s eyes and the eyes of her loved ones. As the narration jumps from the perspectives of Aria’s birth mother, her adopted father, her childhood best friend, her new wealthy friends, her various maternal figures, the maid who cares for her and others, Hozar creates an image that explains not only how Khomeini’s regime came to power, but it reveals the sense of disenfranchisement that people felt under the royal family’s regime.

“Aria” reveals more than heartbreak, it highlights the bonds of love that can tether people together despite their different socioeconomic statuses. While the events of the novel itself come to a dynamic conclusion with the rise of Khomeini’s regime, Aria’s personal narrative comes to a more gentle conclusion as she experiences motherhood for herself amid the shifting social structure.

From the book jacket...

It is the 1950s in a restless Iran, a country rich in oil but deeply divided by class and religion. The government is unpopular and corrupt and under foreign sway. One night, an illiterate army driver hears the pitiful cry of a baby abandoned in an alley and menaced by ravenous wild dogs. He snatches up the child and takes her home, naming her Aria—the first step on an unlikely path from deprivation to privilege. Over the next two decades, the orphan girl acquires three mother figures whose secrets she will learn only much later: reckless and self-absorbed Zahra, who abuses her; wealthy and compassionate Fereshteh, who adopts her; and mysterious Mehri, whose connection to Aria is both a blessing and a burden.

A university education opens a new world to Aria, and she is soon caught up in the excitement and danger of the popular uprising against the Shah that sweeps through the streets of Tehran. The novel’s heart-pounding, explosive finale sees Ayatollah Khomeini’s brutal regime seize power—even as Aria falls in love and becomes a mother herself.

If you enjoy…

Readers who enjoy reading about political change set against the life of everyday people should read “A Thousand Splendid Suns” by Khaled Hosseini. The novel examines how politics shifted and changed life in Afghanistan throughout the lives of two different women who experience life differently through their generational divide.