Death is the great common denominator, but the loss of a child strikes a blow from which few fully recover. This novel addresses the sudden loss of a beloved child and the mother’s attempt to find a way to navigate the rest of her life without her five-year-old daughter, Aria, all in a series of letters that unite past and present.
Although the father, Justin, dies before his child’s birth, Jasmine Talahi manages her fresh grief and pregnancy with the help of others, especially Dot, her dearest friend and a “little person.” Aria’s birth is a joy, each day more rewarding to Jasmine simply because she has a daughter, the focus of her world. Then, in a matter of minutes, a senseless accident removes Aria from those who love her.
A clinical associate professor of oncology at the University of Washington, Iranian-born Jasmine has made a good life for herself and the child, even overcoming the sadness of Justin’s premature death. But Jasmine is unable to sustain this last, terrible blow; she flees her home in Seattle in search of quietude.
In the Sonora Desert, Jasmine begins a series of letters, comforted by the vast quiet and stoic beauty of her surroundings, the landscape as barren as her heart. It is here that the grieving mother releases her feelings, bit by bit, to those alive and dead, especially Justin, Aria, and Jasmine’s beloved grandmother, Mamani Joon.
Jasmine unburdens herself to her parents, whom she has not seen since they left the United States and returned to Iran, assuming their daughter safely ensconced in the university and on her way to a successful career. When she sets up housekeeping with a non-Iranian man and becomes pregnant, Jasmine’s parents are unable to bridge the cultural gap that divides them.
Jasmine follows where her heart beckons. After the desert, she travels to Guatemala, to Tibet and China, where she witnesses a sky burial. From place to place, the letters reflect the remarkable people and places that transform Jasmine’s heavy heart. She bares her soul to Dot and to her friend, Alexander, the man who was helping her cope with Justin’s death and the birth of her precious Aria. But most fascinating are the letters to Mamani Joon, Jasmine’s earliest memories of Iran and her sheltered childhood.
Jasmine knows in her heart that the direction is fixed, perhaps has been from the beginning, a return to the land of her birth and reconciliation with her parents: “A fierce wind sends my message of remorse across the Himalayas to the foothills of the Elburz Mountains. I follow.”
There, at last, Jasmine’s transformational journey comes full circle as the grieving woman makes peace with the parents who never met their grandchild. Slowly, the healing begins. Remarkable and hopeful, Aria is rich with the emotional depths of loss and the regeneration of kindness, the small comforts that make the future viable once more, peace a reality.