Article Credits

“A Girl Called Rumi” by Ari Honarvar (Forest Avenue Press, 2021; 350 pages)
Fall arts preview 2021: Author Ari Honarvar channels her past
“A Girl Called Rumi”: “The timelessness and the relevance of wisdom that shines through Persian poetry and myths, that’s what I really wanted to highlight. That’s kind of what has stayed in Iran, but has also been somewhat of savior for me here, too.”(Eduardo Contreras/The San Diego Union-Tribune)
San Diego author Ari Honarvar, who makes her debut with ‘A Girl Called Rumi,’ on the power of poetry and the resilience of the human spirit
BY SETH COMBSWRITER
SEPT. 12, 2021 5 AM PT

Article Text

Ari Honarvar owes her life to a poem.

This is not an exaggeration. In the late 1980s, just a few years after the Iranian Revolution and at the closing salvos of the Iran-Iraq war, Honarvar’s mother wrote a poem to the Indian Embassy in hopes of securing a visa to get out of Iran. The Indian ambassador apparently liked the poem so much that he gave a then-teenage Ari and her family visas to come to India from Shiraz, Iran.

Once in India, Honarvar says she “miraculously” received a visa to come to the United States even as her family was about to head back to Iran. She was 14 years old when she arrived in the U.S.

“It’s rare to find people who can say that their lives were literally saved by a poem, but mine probably was,” says Honarvar from her home in University Heights. “It doesn’t surprise me that my mother still believed in the power of poetry and was confident that it was going to save us.”

Considering how the importance of poetry and writing was imprinted on Ari Honarver at such a young age, it’s not surprising to learn she became a writer herself. From its initial inception as a screenplay to its publication, Honarvar’s debut novel, “A Girl Called Rumi” (out Sept. 21 on Forest Avenue Press) took 15 years for the author to complete.

Weaving back and forth through time and told from the perspective of varying characters, the novel mainly centers on the story of Kimia as she grows up in post-revolutionary Iran and, later, working as a spiritual adviser in 2009 San Diego. After having something of an existential awakening while going through some of her mother’s old things, Kimia reluctantly returns to Iran, where she must reckon with her past in the midst of the country’s own Green Revolution. Interspersed are chapters told from the perspective of others, including Kimia’s brother Arman, her mother Roya and even a hardline Iranian commander.

And while the plot of “A Girl Called Rumi” is strong enough to where Honarvar could have written a straight-ahead novel, she chose to incorporate fantastical and even magical elements into the story. Posing as a boy named Rumi so she can still play with her male best friend, Kimia visits Baba Morshed, a local mystic who introduces her to “The Conference of the Birds,” a 12th century epic poem by Farid ud-Din Attar which works as a metaphor for humanity’s, and later Kimia’s, inability to attain enlightenment.

“Perhaps the more relevant question is, who are you?” asks Baba Morshed to Kimia in the novel after from “The Conference of the Birds.”

“I still wasn’t used to the odd feeling of leaving with more questions than I had arrived with,” thinks Kimia after Baba Morshed poses this question to her. “But what competed for my attention was the new sensation that had stirred inside my belly. Like all children of war, I was well-versed in anxiety; I knew by heart all its subtle tweaks and jabs. But this was brand-new.”

In many ways, the novel serves as a love letter and tribute to the myths and art of Persian culture, with a young Kimia dutifully absorbing the stories as a means of coping with the war and, as an adult, using the stories to come to a better understanding of her existence.

“The timelessness and the relevance of wisdom that shines through Persian poetry and myths, that’s what I really wanted to highlight,” says Honarvar. “That’s kind of what has stayed in Iran, but has also been somewhat of savior for me here, too.”

The more one learns about Honarvar and her own life, the more parallels there seem to be between her and Kimia. For example, she recalls writing “anti-regime rhetorics on the walls” when she was a teenager, a protest that is also performed by Kimia in the book. In one part of the book, Kimia’s brother secretly buys a horse and hides it in the family’s basement, something Honarvar’s own brother did when they were young. Most pressingly, there’s a picture of a young Honarvar in the back of the book, her hair cut short, with the caption “The author at age nine, trying to blend in as a boy in Iran, 1982.”

Still, Honarvar maintains that most of what makes up “A Girl Called Rumi” is fictional.

“Some of it is based on my own experiences, but most is an amalgam of experiences that friends and family shared, as well as things I’ve just imagined,” says Honarvar, who will host a book release event at Mysterious Galaxy bookstore on Sept. 22 at 7 p.m.

And yet it’s hard not to look at the novel as something Honarvar was destined to write. From her own experiences in a repressive, war-torn country to her own American journey, “A Girl Called Rumi” not only serves a fantastical tale of finding hope among the ruins, but as a tribute to the places we have to leave behind in order to find ourselves.

“Joy is such a sustainable fuel, its sustainable energy that we tap into to help us with the challenges,” says Honarvar, who often hosts arts workshops for refugees at the U.S.-Mexico border. “Seeing how people build their own resilience in difficult situations has been a tremendous inspiration.”

Ari Honarvar was born in Shiraz, Iran. The Iran-Iraq War formed the background for her childhood. Coming from a family which strongly carried the legacies of Persian poets such as Rumi and Hafez, she has been drawn to share that artistic and spiritual wealth here in the USA which has been her home since age 14.
 
Her productions of A Thousand Faces of Love feature the poetry of Rumi. She presents a dynamic program including poems in Farsi and English in the form of Rumi stories, dance, and the stories of Ari’s own encounters with the soul-saving power of poetry growing up during the Iran-Iraq War.
 
As a Musical Ambassadors of Peace, she is committed to building poetic and musical bridges across war-torn and conflict-ridden borders. Between 2018 and 2020 she made regular trips to migrant shelters in Tijuana just south of the US border to spend the day with refugees from the drug-cartel-ruled war zones in Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, and parts of Mexico. Musicians accompanied her to help provide stress relief and healing from the wounds of war in the form of Mexican and Central American music, drumming, and dance. Since the beginning of the pandemic, she has been holding weekly Zoom dance sessions with asylum seekers stuck in Mexico to maintain her connection through music.
 
Ari is the founder of Rumi with a View and has been invited and continues to speak at various functions. She presents at universities, churches, corporations, veterans groups, and other venues. Her work has been featured on NPR, Washington Post, Newsweek, The Guardian, The Nation, Yes Magazine, Parents Magazine, Huffington Post, Vice, CNN Espanol, The Young Turks, Voice of San Diego, and through many other news outlets. She is the author of Rumi’s Gift Oracle Cards (2018) and A Girl Called Rumi (2021).
 
To get an idea of the depth and breadth of Ari’s reach as a writer go to her Parents Magazine Article and follow the included links!

Kirkus Review:
A spellbinding, compelling, and multifaceted tale about an Iranian family haunted by war.

Deepak Chopra calls Ari’s debut novel, “A page-turner that goes deep into the nature of reality beyond perception.” Based on Ari’s childhood during the Iran-Iraq War, the book weaves an ancient Persian myth that takes spiritual seekers on a journey through the mystical Seven Valleys of Love. A portion of the proceeds from the sale of this book goes to MAP in support of the Mexico-based migrant shelters. More info:
Click on Shop Button Below

Ari Honarvar

Musical Ambassador

From Iran

Our Musical Ambassador Ari Honarvar is from Iran… she knows some things which the rest of us don’t: parents who send their children off on their own to seek better lives are not necessarily being “bad parents!”

The Central American parents who are sending their children to take a chance at making it across the border are doing so as an act of deep love!

Ari’s parents were not being bad when they sent her on her way alone from Iran and then India to follow an opportunity to escape the new hardline religious regime in their home country.

They were being GOOD PARENTS and their efforts paid off!

US citizens are not always aware of the tremendous efforts and leaps of faith sometimes required to save the children…

Ari knows about that. She made it all the way from Iran to India to a Texas entry point and finally found a place where her life can flower… Her mother managed to accompany her to India but from there Ari made the journey alone at the age of 14. Her parent’s efforts paid off… Yes, it was a gamble but it was a bet which yielded a happy ending!

September 2017: Ari begins coordinating regular healing drumming sessions with Syrian, Iraqi and Afghani refugees now arriving in El Cajon, CA.

Ari Honarvar is the founder of Rumi With A Viewdedicated to building music and poetry bridges across war-torn borders. Her work has appeared in The Nation, Yes Magazine, Washington Post, The Guardian, Teen Vogue, Vice and elsewhere. She is the author of the oracle card set and book, Rumi’s Gift

See Deeply Moving Video Below

Marisol Quevedo Rerucha of National Parents Union interviews Ari Honarvar on Monday, November 16, 2020
This interview captures the deeply emotional spirit underlying Ari’s work as a Musical Ambassador, as an artist, as a board member and as a parent. This interview is well worth listening to in its entirely. Make some popcorn and check it out!

Nation Article Title:
A 6-Year-Old Girl Was Sexually Abused in an Immigrant-Detention Center
Separated from her mother by Trump’s zero-tolerance policy, the child was forced to sign a statement confirming that she understood it was her responsibility to stay away from her abuser.

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