Kendal Waters | Contributing Writer
Aria Minu-Sepehr. by Kandal Waters
The only problem that arose at Aria Minu-Sepehr’s reading last Friday, was that the Valley Library Rotunda was far too small to fit all the attendees. Every chair was filled, every balcony crowded, and the adjoining hallways were packed with eager listeners.
Aria was introduced by Alison Ruch at 7:30 p.m. on April 27, and he was welcomed to the podium by boisterous applause. He was at the Valley Library to read from his memoir We Heard the Heavens Then. Within the pages of his book, Minu-Sepehr recounts his childhood living in Iran. During his tenth year of existence, in 1979, the Iranian Revolution broke and flipped his life upside down.
The Iranian Revolution was a difficult time in many lives, but those that only heard of it through the media did not get the whole picture, and the only picture they got was skewed and untrue. Even today, the view of Iran and it’s people is completely lost in the images and stories the media chooses to show.
“One of my hopes is that the reader comes away from this book with a view of Iran that is a lot more complex than it is in the news these days,” Minu-Sepehr said. “It’s a very complex place with a lot of color, ten different ethnic groups, and a dozen different languages spoken there. Sure, you have traditionalists, but you have as many modernists.”
As the son of an Iranian Air Force general, the revolution hit very close to home. In fact, it came directly to his doorstep.
Minu-Sepehr read a scene from his book that described how lower-ranking soldiers threatened to burn his family’s house down for their beliefs. The cars came in throngs and circled the residence for hours, trying to scare the family out. The father was on leave, and the mother treated the situation as one would treat an irrational child, using stern words and trying to call their bluff.
Without any other solution in his ten-year-old mind, Aria took it upon himself to protect the house. With only a pellet gun in his arsenal, he tried to guard the house against the train of automobiles, before his plans were swiftly crushed by his mother taking away his weapon. She threatened him with telling his father, and followed through soon after. To his surprise, his father was not angry, but instead, encouraged him to use the shotgun next time.
He recounts this harrowing tale with a comedic voice, turning the most terrifying scenes into comedies. The book does not touch on easy topics – some scenes depict close family friends’ deaths, some tell of fear-filled nights of wondering if his father would make it home alive – but he recounts the events with humor, and makes them easier to hear about.
“I think the humor might have been partly for himself,” said his wife, Karen Holmberg. “Partly because he had a very funny family, the whole family is full of comic spirits. But then also that levity, that lightness, was absolutely necessary for him to be able to remember the funny, and the good, and the charming, and the hilarious parts as well as the frigtening and the disorienting parts.”
Frightening as the events were, Aria was able to make it out safe and sane. Even though he made it through these events, reliving them is difficult. Holmberg told of her intimate witness to him writing the occurrences down, recalling times where transcribing the events became too much to handle. Aria said that getting all the memories out was a liberating experience. He also tells of his experiences in his book without skewing the events with bias.
“In the process of writing this book, I did a lot of research and had to abandon the disposition I had taken as a member of an elite class then,” he said. “Because most of that elite class, now, holds onto the idea that that was the best time, that there were no problems with the faults of the regime. In fact, they’re in denial to some extent.”
Events in Iran went from bad to worse, but luckily became peaceful again after a period of chaos. Amir Azarbakht was born four years after the revolution, and bore witness to the changes in the country that occurred soon after Aria’s family departed.
“A year after [Aria's family] left, in 1980, a war broke out. Iraq invaded Iran, and the war lingered on for the next eight years, so that was another crisis for the life of ordinary people,” Azarbakht said. “Then there was this period of building the country, and then, about fifteen or twenty years ago, life started to become more normal, more event-less, compared to the time of the revolution or the time of the war. Actually, I had my teenage years, my youth, and then adulthood in a peaceful time, so I don’t actually relate to the time of war or revolution that much.”
Having moved to Corvallis just this past September, Azarbakht has seen what most American citizens have not, the truth of what it is actually like in Iran.
“People are living their lives, and having fun, and working, and everything else. Not living as portrayed in the media,” Amir stated.
We Heard the Heavens Then tells the tale of a not-so-foreign land, in a not-so-foreign state of crisis. It bridges the gap between what we think we know and what we should learn. The content of the book is extremely insightful and relatable, and the reading was a very captivating experience.
The wisdom that Aria shared only whetted appetites for knowledge and sent minds racing towards new thoughts.