Title: We Heard the Heavens Then
Author: Aria Minu-Sepehr
Review: 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.
Aria Minu-Sepehr details the life of someone who was an heir to all Iran had to offer; being well educated and destined for great things. As part of that life he shows the world of those who do not have the same opportunities readily available, those who are there to serve the ruling class. For the most part they were treated well, there was never a sense that they could improve their situations and be more than they were. In fact most of their life is spent in fear of the ones in power, to be dismissed at the whim of the master.
This hopelessness is what opens the door for revolution. If we cannot have the power than neither can you. Then through the destruction of all that has been built, the resulting society is highly regulated and controlled, without opportunity at all for personal improvement. But that is okay, because nobody else can have it any better either. Basically you end up with modern Iran, a country stuck in the past which expends most of its time controlling its citizens. From their behaviors to their thoughts, a country without freedom, ruled with a gun.
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.
Publisher: Expected publication: April 10th 2012 by Free Press
Quick Review: 4 stars (out of 5)
Why I Read It: Sent by the publisher for review.
Synopsis: ARIA MINU-SEPEHR was raised in a sheltered world of extraordinary privilege as the son of a major general in the Shah’s Imperial Iranian Air Force. It seemed his father could do anything—lead the Golden Crowns in death-defying aerobatic maneuvers; command an air force unit using top American technology; commission a lake to be built on a desert military base, for waterskiing. When Aria was eight, “Baba” built him a dune buggy so he could explore the desert; by ten, the boy handled the controls of a Beechcraft Bonanza while his father napped in the copilot’s seat. Aria moved easily between the two distinct worlds that existed under his family’s roof—a division that mirrored the nation’s own deep and brooding divide. He was as comfortable at the lavish cocktail parties his parents threw for Iran’s elite as he was running amok in the kitchen where his beloved nanny grumbled about the whiskey drinking, French ham, and miniskirts. The 1970s were the end result of half a century of Westernization in Iran, and Aria’s father was the man of the hour. But when the Shah was overthrown and the Ayatollah rose to power in 1979, Aria’s idyllic life skidded to a halt. Days spent practicing calligraphy in his father’s embrace, lovingly torturing his nanny, and watching Sesame Street after school were suddenly infused with fears that the militia would invade his home, that he himself could be kidnapped, or that he would have to fire a gun to save Baba’s life. As the surreal began to invade the mundane, with family friends disappearing every day and resources growing scarce, Aria found himself torn between being the man of the house and being a much needed source of comic relief. His antics shone a bright light for his family, showing them how to escape, if only momentarily, the grief and horror that a vengeful revolution brought into their lives. We Heard the Heavens Then is a deeply moving story told from two vantage points: a boy growing up faster than any child should, observing and recoiling in the moment, and the adult who is dedicated to a measured assessment of the events that shaped him. In this tightly focused memoir, Aria Minu- Sepehr takes us back through his explosive youth, into the heart of the revolution when a boy’s hero, held up as the nation’s pride, became a hunted man.
Author Biography: Aria Minu-Sepehr moved with his family to the United States following the fall of the shah of Iran in 1979. Aria’s memoir of his childhood experience in Revolutionary Iran is a personal narrative indebted to historical scholarship and powerful literature. The author draws from his experience as adjunct professor of English, as founder of Forum for Middle East Awareness, and as a public lecturer in fields related to Iran and the Middle East to fashion a universally human tale in one of the most pertinent and explosive settings of our age. He lives in Oregon with his wife and two daughters.