An early assessment by Kirkus Reviews. A nice start, wouldn’t you say?
The son of an eminent general in the Imperial Iranian Air Force, Minu-Sepehr enjoyed a charmed childhood at the Iranian base of Isfahan and then briefly in Tehran, where the family moved after the fall of the shah in 1979. In this beautifully composed memoir of a vanished time, the author, now a teacher in Oregon and the founder of the Forum for Middle East Awareness, reconstructs the increasingly fraught last days before his family was forced to flee their homeland, finding refuge in London and then America. While his indefatigable, proud father, “Baba,” kept an eye on the Soviets, Minu-Sepehr enjoyed tormenting the servants, learning to drive, navigating both the old-world ways and the modern ones of his grandmothers and mother, learning about Western culture from the Americans living on the base and hanging out in the kitchen with his beloved nanny, Bubbi, who included the boy in the lives of the lower classes he normally would never know. “They were taught to be invisible,” he writes of these fascinating low-ranking laborers, “to blow in and out with a tea tray…I loved every second of their utterances.” When the author was in fifth grade, the ugly political events began to intrude on his life. Baba’s colleagues and friends were killed, their pictures splashed across the newspapers; rumors of corruption and heresy abounded; the TV broadcasted the torching of Cinema Rex and the corruption trials. While the author’s older brother was sent off to boarding school in America, the family moved to their grandmother’s house in Tehran, where Minu-Sepehr attended a tougher Iranian school and learned, for the first time, a “political hierarchy.” Soon after, the family was able to get out, but always expecting to return—never to happen.
A touching tribute to a former national hero—the author’s father—and a homeland riven by contradictions.
Miwa Messer is the Director of the Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers program. Here’s her review of my book in BARNESANDNOBLEREVIEW.COM. The entire article (found here) includes some of my thoughts on writing the book.
Dear Reader, I was truly pleased when the Discover selection committee agreed to include Aria Minu-Sepehr’s gracefully-composed memoir We Heard the Heavens Then in Discover’s Summer 2012 season. As a reader, I love his imagery, his ability to keep the narrative moving forward, his characters, his insight and deft touch explaining Iran’s complicated society. But there’s a personal interest for me that goes beyond the gorgeous writing: I was in elementary school for much of the time that Minu-Sepehr recounts, and my only real exposure to the Iranian revolution came through the conversations of adults around me, who in turn knew what they did thanks to constant media coverage.
What a great review by L. Anne Carrington. Although Anne seems to commend the book’s honesty, it’s the one feature that keeps me up at night. I sincerely hope that those who are implicated in this work have the capacity to see beyond their own circumstance. Anne is the author of several books including The Cruiserweight. Read more about her here.
We Heard the Heavens Then grasps the reader from page one; it is a brilliantly written memoir of a time most have forgotten. The book has a sensual, humorous, spirited, and compassionate voice throughout, while telling a remarkable story. Brutally honest, Minu-Sepehr captures dealing with a life he’d always known set in a country on the edge of revolution.
For those who wish to read and research topics on Iran, We Heard the Heavens Then is one of the best down-to-earth, spirited books written, with the bonus of being told from personal experiences by its author. Highly recommended for any history buff, and also would make good college class reading.
Here’s a generous look at the memoir by author extraordinaire Keith Scribner. Keith has published three novels; the latest is by Knopf and is called The Oregon Experiment. Check out his novels, and learn more about him here.
I’ve just read Aria Minu-Sepehr’s fascinating and moving memoir We Heard the Heavens Then about his boyhood in Iran before the revolution and his family’s escape to the West. The book is filled with humor, insights, a gripping story, and in the end is a beautiful meditation on fatherhood, family, and the powerful draw of home.
This review on Literary Inklings is by Casee Marie, a New England bibliophile with an interest in wine, Dean Martin, and Dorothy Parker. Casee’s favorite author is J. D. Salinger, who is one of my all time faves too.
One of the reasons I love reading is because it affords me the opportunity to live so many different lives. Memoirs have more recently become one of my favorite things to read for the way they offer personal insights and, occasionally, an educating look at places and histories we may not be familiar with. It’s a gift to be able to learn about different cultures and events through the eyes of someone to whom the experiences meant something monumental. In such a way We Heard the Heavens Then, Aria Minu-Sepehr’s account of his young life in Iran during the 1979 revolution, captures the essence of what a memoir can bring to its reader: a unique look at history, a new understanding of a culture, and a powerful story.
More than a meaningful journey into his singular childhood, We Heard the Heavens Then serves as a feeling dedication to the life of Aria’s father, an esteemed general in Iran’s Air Force. Through its pages Aria accounts his privileged childhood spent on an air force base, advancing the visual aspect of the story with his aptitude for the subtle, incidental wit of a child’s perspective. He carries the delicate narrative through the beginnings of the Iranian Revolution when his life, as well as the lives of families and loved ones, became endangered. Wondering with every passing day if his father will be returned safely home or if the ill-fated inevitable will really occur, a ten year-old Aria balances new schools, cities, cultures and the tumultuous understanding of youth coming of age, all the while finding solace in hope during a time of harrowing unrest.
We Heard the Heavens Then affected me in a lot of ways. I felt in it the earnestness with which Aria wished to pay tribute to the country and people he loved, as he wanted to remember them. I was enthralled in the way he leads the reader to a better understanding of what his life was like during such a difficult time, as well as the lives of others around him in various social positions. But additionally, I felt in the book a son’s intense desire to introduce the world, as much as he’s able, to the greatest fixture of his life: his father. Aria colorfully illustrates the character of the man who paved his own understanding of the world, his own desire to do good things, and he leaves the reader impassioned by his efforts.
To surmise (something I’m never able to do, but I do try): We Heard the Heavens Then is a motivation to embrace life to its fullest, to stand for what you believe in, and to always hold on to hope. It’s a book that will not fail, I think, to entirely captivate whoever reads it. And it’s a reading experience you’ll not soon forget.
Meg at A Bookish Affair has this to say. And this: “Sometimes reading a good book can be like a great love affair.” (I feel oddly guilty of something.)
I really like memoirs. I especially like memoirs when they’re about places and times that I don’t know much about. We’re about 30 years past the Iranian Revolution and there are still new perspectives and information that are coming out about that time period from a broad variety of sources. Aria Minu-Sepehr was just about 10 years old when the revolution took place. Even at that young age, he was well aware that his life was going to change. His family was very well off under the Shah and his dad was a military hero. Both of these things made his family a target for the new regime. In typical child fashion, Aria doesn’t realize what he has and takes all of the things and opportunities that his family can provide for him for granted. He’s definitely a little spoiled in the beginning of the book but the things that he goes through and the experiences that he looks back on him definitely change him.
I think that this is the first book about the Iranian Revolution that I’ve read that was told through the point of view of a person who was a child at the time looking back over the events that happened in 1979. Even though children aren’t always fully aware of what’s going on at the time, they are still more perceptive a lot of times than we really give them credit for.
This book is definitely a good one for those that are looking for a different take on an event whose affects the world is still dealing with today. At it’s core, it is really a human story about how a family finds that the country where they have lived for just about forever can no longer be a safe home. It’s heart breaking and funny at some points and show just how resilient we humans really can be.
Bottom line: History and memoir lovers will enjoy this one.
In this review, Book Him Danno! echoes what author Salar Abdoh says about my memoir: “We get a soaring view of what every Iranian has often imagined – what could have been and wasn’t.” I would only add that some take solace in the fact that they gave it their best shot. Book Him Danno! are David and Lisa, voracious readers who devour over 300 books a year. In 2010 the couple read 345 books!
Heartbreaking, simply heartbreaking. Reading this book you get a sense of how close Iran was to being a fully modern, westernized nation. How they would have been a leader for the region, and the world as a whole. Unfortunately they made the mistake of all societies when they undergo such rapid growth and prosperity; they separate into the haves and the have nots. Which wouldn’t be so bad if they provided a a real identifiable path for the nots to share in the wealth and opportunity of the society.
This book is a fascinating story of family and politics, a story of what is possible and how fast it can all go away if not nurtured constantly. It is also a great look at Iran as a culture, a look beyond all the bluster and hate filled propaganda they spew out today. This book humanizes the people we do not see on the nightly news, the mother and fathers trying to do the best by their families while living in an impossible situation. Iranians are real people, many of who would prefer a different engagement with the world too.
A review by Ron Beasley, contributor to Newshoggers and The Moderate Voice. Ron makes a connection between some of the themes in the memoir and what is going on in Afghanistan today, renewing my hope that the reader will find in this tale something usefully current.
I receive several opportunities a month to do book reviews. I turn most of them down in spite of the fact it means I won’t get a free book. I almost decided against reviewing We Heard the Heavens Then: A Memoir of Iran but eventually agreed. After reading the first few pages I knew I had made the right decision.
We Heard The Heavens Then by Aria Minu-Sepher is the story of the last few years of Shah’s Iranian monarchy and the revolution that brought it down as seen through the eyes of a young boy whose father was a powerful general in the Shah’s air force. The author has had decades in the United States to think about what happened and presents us with a measured and fair account of social-political reality that led up to the revolution.
There are several characters in this story, both family members and others. Aria Minu-Sepher grew up in a privileged world. As we might say now he was part of the one percent. His mother is mentioned but it is rarely a flattering picture. She was proud of the fact she was part of the aristocracy. His father, “Baba,” plays a key part in the narrative. A very competent pilot and General who adores his son and attempts to mold his son in his own image. In a way this book is a tribute to his father. The rest of the author’s extended family represent an eclectic mix of Iranian society. The household staff also plays a part but none more than the housekeeper “Bubbi.” She is a very conservative Muslim, a classic member of the Iranian 99%. She is offended by Western influence. She objects to serving wine, shrimp and ham. She objects to automobiles and thinks the F14 fighters the General commands are straight from the devil. We get the impression that she represents a lot of the 99%.
The author paints a picture of an Iran that is not just divided along 1% – 99% line but also on a secular – pious line, but there is a great deal of overlap. Much of Iran was not enjoying the miracles from the West, but they didn’t want to. I think that we can see some of the problems we are having in Afghanistan – a majority who simply don’t want to be forced into a secular world.
Normally this subject matter would be rather dry but this book is an enjoyable and easy read because it is made up primarily of personal anecdotes. I highly recommend this book.
Blogger Dads of Divas has the following to say. I’ve often encountered comments like “this is absolutely unbelievable!” and I sometimes wish I could say, I made it all up.
This was a truly emotional tale that takes you in from the beginning to the end! The characters are intriguing and you will come to find that you will want to keep reading to find out what happens as time passes in the book. There is so much action, intrigue and suspense in the book that will keep you connected to the overall book. I was completely entranced by the story and plot and you will continue to say to yourself, I cannot believe this really happened (or at least I did)! This was a great story that all should read!
Vera Marie Badertscher at A Traveler’s Library has a lengthy review of my memoir that I think gives too much of the plot away. I’ve excerpted it below, but if you’re the kind of reader who starts from the last page, you can find the whole thing here.
We Heard the Heavens Then brings us a memoir of the revolution from the point of view of a young boy in a privileged family. As we discovered with In the Country of Men about Libya, and in In the Shadow of the Banyan, there is something particularly moving about seeing horrific events through innocent eyes. We Heard the Heavens Then tells a very different story with a different tone than the other memoirs of Middle Eastern countries that I’ve seen.
Although the father is an overwhelming influence, all the other family members are fully developed as characters–and some are QUITE the characters! Special attention goes to Bubbi, the nanny/cook, whose name in English certainly sounds like Bubba, an entirely fitting coincidence. The author skillfully relays Bubbi’s language in a fractured English that reflects an uneducated, but “street-smart” type whose down to earth comments provide good balance for the high society/high command of his parents. When the details of this book are fading from my mind, Bubbi will remain.
Here’s what Patty Woodland thinks. Patty has many interests which include jewelry design, soap making from goat milk, and blogging. You can read more about her at Broken Teepee.
This memoir of a young boy living in Iran as revolution strikes was a compelling book. Young Aria lived a life of privilege as the son of one of the generals of the shah’s elite air force. His father, called Baba in the book was a mythic man to young Aria – capable of doing almost anything. Men snapped to his orders and he seemed almost god-like to a young boy. If he wanted a lake in the desert there would be a lake in the desert!
Aria was a very intelligent young man and soon realized that times were changing in his country without perhaps understanding why. His parents tried to keep him cushioned from the worst of what was going on around them but the fear that permeated the country’s elite class could not escape the household. As their house at the air force base on which they lived was surrounded by revolutionaries Aria’s mother stood firm until an escape could be made to Tehran. Soon another escape need be made – this time to London, then to the US.
The book reads almost like a novel. Mr. Menu-Sepehr’s writing carries you along with his young self. You are aware of the progression of events going on in the greater world but the story is really about a young boy growing up in a changing world and the love he has for his father. A father both myth and man.