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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.
About the Author
Aria Minu-Sepehr moved with his family to the United States following the fall of the shah of Iran in 1979. He is an adjunct professor of English, founder of Forum for Middle East Awareness, and a public lecturer in fields related to Iran and the Middle East. He lives in Oregon with his wife and two daughters.
Praise for We Heard the Heavens Then: A Memoir of Iran…
"Aria Minu-Sepehr’s memoir about growing up in Iran before the fall of the Shah is an exquisitely told tale brimming with sensuality, humor, and humanity. Minu-Spehr vividly captures the intense yearning and bewilderment of childhood as he, like a modern-day Shahrazad, unravels a rich and unforgettable tapestry of true-life stories set in a country on the verge of revolution. We Heard the Heavens Then is a son’s eloquent tribute to his father and to the beloved country he had to leave behind."
-Mira Bartók, author of New York Times bestselling The Memory Palace
"We Heard the Heavens Then is an extraordinary story of a child who sees his Paradise turn into Hell, an exhilarating work that reveals the delusions of Shah’s regime about modernity and exposes the terrifying nature of the turbaned beards’ dogma. An intelligent, witty, honest and hilariously funny, but also heartbreaking memoir. A remarkable book written by a brilliant writer. A great read."
-Fadhil al-Azzawi, author of The Last of the Angels
“There are photographs that define a nation in a particular time. In his down-to-earth childhood memoir of Iran just before, during and after the revolution, Minu-Sepehr catches precisely the pulse of a country as it appears to hurl itself headlong into the abyss. And, especially, in the sympathetic portrayal of the author’s father, an Air Force General and jet fighter ace, we get a soaring view of what every Iranian has often imagined – of what might have been and wasn’t.”
-Salar Abdoh, author of The Poet Game and Opium
"The strength of We Heard the Heavens Then is Minu-Sepehr's keen eye and wealth of detail. He captures the exuberance, naiveté and anxiety of childhood, as well as a son's hero worship of his father."
"[A] Mournfully lyrical account of an evanescent privileged childhood on the eve of the Iranian Revolution....In this beautifully composed memoir of a vanished time, the author... reconstructs the increasingly fraught last days before his family was forced to flee their homeland, finding refuge in London and then America."
"Written with the honesty and humor representative of childhood mixed with the longing and acceptance of an adult separated from his homeland, this memoir offers an insider's perspective on a country...that often remains a mystery to Western people."
“This gripping story—filled with humor and insights—is in the end a beautiful meditation on fatherhood, family, and the powerful draw of home.”