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ARIA by Nassim Assefi


by Nassim Assefi

Pub Date: May 7th, 2007
ISBN: 0-15-101293-8
Publisher: Harcourt

After the accidental death of her five-year-old daughter, a grief-stricken oncologist embarks on a year-long round-the-world spiritual journey.

Jasmine is the American-born daughter of Iranian parents who cut ties with her to protest her out-of-wedlock relationship with Justin. Justin sires Aria, then dies during the pregnancy (though he returns in a dream to christen the child—“lectur[ing] . . . [his] umbilicus” in the hyper-earnest tone that dominates the book: “When you come into this world, I want you to be like this aria we are hearing”). Aria’s sudden death devastates Jasmine, who has no religious faith or rituals to rely upon, so she embarks on a trip first to Guatemala (where Justin served in the Peace Corps), then in search of spiritual succor to Tibet, and finally “home” to Iran, there to learn among her family the age-old arts of grieving. The story is told mostly in letters—first to Jasmine’s three loves (grandmother, fiancé, daughter), all dead now, and then, as she prepares to re-engage with the world, increasingly in exchanges with the living: her friend Dottie, anthropologist and achondroplasic dwarf; her boyfriend Alexander, whom we get to know mainly by way of Jasmine’s tooth-grinding list of “forty-six reasons why I adore you”; and her mother.

Assefi conveys Jasmine’s desolation effectively, and the finale in Iran is somewhat affecting. But genuine emotion is undermined again and again by hokum and histrionics—the novel is as heavy-handed as it is heavy-hearted.