This book was a delightful surprise. I picked it up from the library as part of my Writers Fest Challenge, as Nazanine Hozar will be speaking at the Festival as one of the New Voices. I knew very little about the novel so it was quite lovely to find myself immersed in a story I might not have chosen on my own.
The book begins with the birth of a baby in Iran. A little girl who is almost immediately abandoned but then found by a man who chooses to raise her as his own. He names her Aria, after the word for song, even though this is usually a boy’s name in his country.
From there the book follows Aria through childhood into teenage hood and young adulthood. We stay close to Aria and her perspective but the book is also divided into sections named after her three mothers; Zahra, Fereshteh, and Mehri, and we see how each forms her and changes her life.
Adjacent to Aria’s personal timeline is the story of Iran, a nation going through tumultuous changes. And as Aria’s own life is altered forever, Iran enters the revolution. Hozar does an excellent job of paralleling these two stories. The book is never bogged down in political or historical details but the author uses characters and their various situation to broadly outline some of the issues behind the revolution and help the reader understand how a nation developed to this point.
Aria’s life is straddled between poverty and wealth, her own desires often overcome by what’s allowed around her and what’s seen as acceptable. We see, too, the variety and variance of religions within Iran and the dangers that each one can hold. Aria is an interesting character to follow, not quite likeable but strong and stubborn, and so clearly a product of her culture and time that it’s hard not to feel sympathy for her, even as we witness her poor decisions.
Hozar has a strong and compelling voice and tells the story well. The book is over 400 pages but never drags and there were very few weak points or sections I could have done without. She is definitely an exciting addition to Canadian fiction.