If Aria embodies Iranian complexity, this story of her young life serves as a vehicle for the national story of the quarter-century leading up to the 1979 Islamic revolution. Hozar shows rather than tells the reader of the economic divisions and swelling resentments that precipitated the change. The social tension rises steadily as the novel progresses, adding to its compelling pace. And her method of describing the paranoid and increasingly febrile political environment from the perspectives of children and teenagers is surprisingly effective, communicating key historical information alongside a general sense of mounting confusion ... Tehran’s diversity is expertly conjured in this section – its cinemas as well as its self-flagellating Ashura processions, its opium dealers on bicycles, its Polish immigrants, and Jews, Christians and Bahá’ís as well as Muslims ... Perhaps the strongest character in this warm-hearted book is Behrouz: gentle, long-suffering and the one steady and reliable person in the flux of Aria’s life. His stories told from the steering wheel evoke the symbolic riches of Iranian culture accumulated over 7,000 years ... a hugely enjoyable book crammed with artful devices ... Notwithstanding some slightly underwritten sections, its skilful blending of personal and political drama, along with its broad scope, richness of setting and vitality of character, gives it something of the quality of that epic.
... affecting ... Hozar’s carefully woven plot is certainly not one of chivalry and happy endings ... We see most of the story through Aria’s eyes, which feels apt, since she is an outsider figure, with no fixed family allegiance to a political or religious group. She therefore sees through every group’s lies more easily. When revolt breaks out at the end of the book, she finally bursts ... Hozar is good at the big picture, describing Iran’s history in full and nuanced detail. Yet the reason this novel works particularly well is that she never abandons the smaller picture of the characters’ lives as they grow older ... And while the characters are all well formed in themselves, sometimes their interactions with others feel slightly contrived; when a man who worked with Aria’s father is coincidentally the one to save her childhood friend from being shot, it seems a little too neat. Yet this is a small quibble when a novel leaves you as simultaneously heartbroken and full of hope as this one.
Exploring motherhood and personal relationships as well as the chaotic upheavals in revolutionary Tehran, this debut offers a powerful lead character in Aria. But its minor characters are just as memorable, with the narrative revealing how their circumstances have shaped their personalities. Highly recommended, especially for book groups.