The Next Chapter

Why Nazanine Hozar's novel about an Iranian orphan is more relevant than ever

Aria is the story of a young orphan girl, growing up in the midst of the mounting dissent that preceded the Iranian revolution.
Aria is a novel by Nazanine Hozar. (Tenille Campbell, Penguin Random House Canada)
Listen16:38

It sometimes happens that a novel set in the past can become timely because of the light it casts on the present. That is the case with debut novel Aria by Nazanine Hozar. 

In Jan. 2020, 176 people lost their lives when Ukrainian Air Flight 752 was shot down by an Iranian missile

Aria is the story of a young orphan girl, growing up in the midst of the mounting dissent that preceded the Iranian revolution. She writes about the rise to power of the Ayatollah Khomeini, beginning in the 1950s, when the Shah was still in power.

The novel follows the titular character, who is an orphan growing up in Tehran. The story of Aria's life unfolds against the sweep and turmoil of the tumultuous decades leading up to the Islamic Republic.

Hozar spoke with Shelagh Rogers about writing Aria

Close to home

"What happened with Ukrainian Air Flight 752 is still quite raw for me. It was several weeks of grieving. But you try to move on and get on with life — you figure out a way to do something to not let those lives be lost in vain.

You figure out a way to do something to not let those lives be lost in vain.- Nazanine Hozar

"Think of an abused puppy, one that's been tortured and beaten for months and years. It's in a corner with its head hung low. That's how the Iranian people have felt for four decades. This incident might not necessarily be the catalyst for any kind of regime change or a movement that might take place in Iran. But it certainly will be a monumental moment in the history of modern Iranian society."

Shaped by Iran

"I was born in the late 1970s, but I'm writing about Tehran between the timeframe of the 1950s to the late 1970s. In writing about the period before my birth, I'm adding and subtracting  things from the Tehran that I remembered. I also spent a lot of time researching and figuring out what shops existed, what buildings weren't there yet by researching names and looking at pictures from the 1950s. 

I spent my childhood within the situation in Iran. I was always very confused and angered by it.- Nazanine Hozar

"I'm partially writing this from memory in terms of feel and atmosphere. Then a lot of it was my research. If you were to go to Tehran today, I don't think that you would recognize much of what I've written in the novel.

"I spent my childhood within the situation in Iran. I was always very confused and angered by it. I was always trying to understand why it existed and why this regime treated its people in this way. It was a matter of me trying to understand — and in large part come to terms with — what I thought was evil and maybe undo some of the biases that I had. I tried to see things from the point of view that I hadn't considered before. I had all these poisonous feelings that I wanted to get rid of, excise them from me as you would a cancer."

Ode to Aria

"The character of Aria sprang from an image and scene that no longer exists in the novel. The image was of a very young girl, maybe around 16 years old, who's pregnant and in labour. She's running through the snow at night and she's running away from something. 

The idea of Aria as a girl, as an entity, was supposed to represent Iran itself.- Nazanine Hozar

"The idea of Aria as a girl, as an entity, was supposed to represent Iran itself. Her life's trajectory runs in parallel with what Iran is. Aria the name usually is a male name that often refers to the Aryan people. It doesn't refer to Hitler's bastardized and racist term for the word; it actually means Iranian people.

"That name means a lot; it represents quite a lot. By naming her that she's embodying a particular quality. We see her move through the different systems and classes within Iranian life. Through her we see how people survive and manoeuvre through life. You get to see this fabric of society intermingling and being woven — and then you see what it culminates in the end."

Nazanine Hozar's comments have been edited for length and clarity.

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