In 1950s Iran, religious and nationalist fervor can be sparked by last names, loyalties and different appearances. Against this backdrop, a discarded girl with a boy’s name matures in a man’s world. Through this girl’s journey, Iranian-born author Nazanine Hozar’s debut novel traces the reign and overthrow of the Shah of Iran through Ayatollah Khomeini’s dramatic return to power.
Young Aria, rescued as an infant by a sensitive army driver but abused by his angry wife, endures early censure and ridicule because of her blue eyes and red hair. Her life is marked by division and strife, but she grows up defiant and strong, wondering where she came from. Everyone she encounters—from her childhood friend Kamran, to her wealthy school pals Hamlet and Mitra, to those who know the truth about her birth mother—influence her path. She learns and loves, goes to school, wrestles with the shifting politics of her country, eventually marries and has her own baby amid the Iranian Revolution.
Hozar’s vivid depictions of daily life in the divided city of Tehran ground Aria in stark reality. Modernity strains against the confines of a place where the past always has a foothold—where history keeps being rewritten and a new future staged, where power changes hands, often brutally.
Hozar’s perceptive writing falters at times, and the plot meanders distractingly. But early poetic chapters and the novel’s thrilling climax draw the reader in. One thing is clear: Pain propels us, but so do offerings of love. Aria accepts both in her life, and they develop into the will and perseverance she needs to survive.