In many ways Aria Minu-Sepehr, author of the memoir We Heard the Heavens Then, had what sounds like a typical American childhood. He went to an American school. He watched Sesame Street and Little House on the Prairie. He made Popsicle skeletons for Halloween and went waterskiing.
But Minu-Sepehr was far from the U.S.: He grew up in Iran in the 1970s.
His father was a major general in the Iranian Air Force, a position that carried a high level of prestige. As Minu-Sepehr explained to Think Out Loud‘s Dave Miller, the Iranian Air Force in the 1970s was “the most defining feature of Iran and modernity.” According to Minu-Sepehr, “All of our pilots came out and flew [in the U.S. for training]. They saw a lot of the outside world and I think they brought it back with them.”
As a child, Minu-Sepehr basked in what he acknowledges was a kind of privileged bubble — a wealthy, somewhat secular, Western-focused world. But the Iranian Revolution in 1979 burst that bubble. The Shah was overthrown, Ayatollah Khomeini took control, and the old military and ruling classes were rooted out.
For Minu-Sepehr the bleakest sign of the changing times took place in the summer of 1978 at a movie theater, Cinema Rex. “It was burned down with moviegoers in it, so somebody had essentially locked the doors… poured kerosene all outside and burned [the] theater down. And these people couldn’t escape.” With a death toll of more than 400 people, for Minu-Sepehr and most the country, “this was a defining moment that something was really wrong. Nothing like this had ever happened in Iran.”
Minu-Sepehr’s family escaped. He lives in in Corvallis now, and writes about his family’s story in We Heard the Heavens Then.
Minu-Sepehr has not been back to Iran since leaving and he cannot return. But if he could go back to Iran, he would like to show his two daughters “the landscape first… you got mountains, you got lakes, you got the desert and the four seasons.” Equally important to Minu-Sepehr would be introducing his daughters to the people. “There are so many different kinds of people in Iran… at least 10, 12, ethnic groups, languages… it’s just a very diverse place.”
Listen to the full conversation with Aria Minu-Sepehr on Think Out Loud.
This article includes contributions from Dave Miller.