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October 10, 2014

Book Notes - Gina B. Nahai "The Luminous Heart of Jonah S."

The Luminous Heart of Jonah S.

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Kevin Brockmeier, George Pelecanos, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Myla Goldberg, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Gina B. Nahais novel The Luminous Heart of Jonah S. is a bold and lyrical epic that spans generations of Iranian Jews from Tehran to Los Angeles.

Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:

"It's a riveting tale, requiring full concentration. Readers will be well rewarded."

Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.


In her own words, here is Gina B. Nahai's Book Notes music playlist for her novel The Luminous Heart of Jonah S.:


The stories were there before the music, it is true, but the songs became pathways to a past I had to recreate in narrative form. I had written about distant history--my own and others’--often, but this was the first time I was writing about life in LA ten, twenty, even thirty years ago. It’s always more difficult to sift through the more recent memories in search of the most significant, or telling, parts. I worried that I wouldn’t be able to render a compelling enough picture of Los Angeles without the benefit of great distance, or that I wouldn’t see the dramatic potential in events without the benefit of a longer hindsight. With my previous novels, I had used the voices I had heard in my childhood, the words and inflections and the weight of emotions they carried, to tell the story. With this book, I used the songs I had heard in each era to summon the most poignant details that, together, amounted to a retelling.


"Billy, Don’t be a Hero," Bo Donaldson and The Heywoods

I left Iran in 1974, to go to boarding school in Switzerland with my sister. The summer before school started, my parents took us to New York. My mother had some family living in Queens, and they would take us around morning to night, to all the tourist sites and the department stores. Someone--a cousin, I think--owned a cherry-red Oldsmobile we’d squeeze into. It was hot and muggy and smokey and loud in the car, even more so outside, and all the radio stations in the country seemed to know only this one song.


"Margaritaville," Jimmy Buffet

My family moved to Los Angeles in 1977--two years before the revolution when you could count on two hands the number of Iranian families on the West Side. We landed at LAX the night Elvis died. My uncle Ray, who lived in Pasadena, picked us up at the airport and drove us to the Holiday Inn on Sunset and the 405. This is the song that played on the car radio. In retrospect, it encapsulates all the sunny optimism of a young family on the cusp of a new beginning.


"She’s Out of my Life," Michael Jackson

I was a student at UCLA and for the first time ever, I had real friends and an (albeit very limited) social life. One afternoon I was studying at a table in the North Campus dining hall when a frenzy broke out. People started running toward the back door as if from a fire, rushing back in to call their friends to “get up and come see, it’s him, it’s really him.” I’ve never been one to follow the crowd so I stayed put. Later, when the storm settled, someone told me there had been a sighting--a silver stretch limo, tinted windows, a pair of burly bouncer types in expensive suits bursting at the seams from the force of ever-expanding muscles, and a rumor, started by God knows whom, that it was Michael Jackson in the limo.


"Fire and Rain," James Taylor

Later, when my parents had lost the house with the floor-to-ceiling windows in the hills, when the life they had believed they could create in America didn’t materialize and the possibilities they had thought would be ever-expanding began to shrink, I’d listen to this song and think of those magical first years--the late ‘70s and early ’80’s--in LA, how hopeful they had been. How bold. How very brave to leave Iran when they didn’t have to.


"Mossabbeb," Elaaheh

My favorite Persian song is a plea to God by a subject who has complete faith in His powers and who begs him not to “take, from me, the one piece of joy” still left. It’s a very old song, covered many times by different artists, but the original, sung by a woman, is still the most affecting. In my twenties, the lyrics sounded positive to me: here was a person with faith so deep, she prayed as if expecting to be heard. As I grew older, I heard the futility of faith. Finally, toward the end of writing this book, I listened to the song dozens of times a day and each time, came away with the understanding that this wasn’t about faith so much as about hope.


Gina B. Nahai and The Luminous Heart of Jonah S. links:

the author's website
excerpt from the book
excerpt from the book

Kirkus review
Publishers Weekly review


also at Largehearted Boy:

Book Notes (2012 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2005 - 2011) (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
Daily Downloads (free and legal daily mp3 downloads)
guest book reviews
Largehearted Word (weekly new book highlights)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Short Cuts (writers pair a song with their short story or essay)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
weekly music release lists


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