Assefi, Nassim

views updated

Assefi, Nassim


Ethnicity: "Iranian-American." Education: Wellesley College, B.A. (magna cum laude), 1991; University of Washington School of Medicine, M.D. (with high honors), 1997; postgraduate training at Harvard Medical School, 1997-2000.


Home—Istanbul, Turkey. E-mail—[email protected].


Physician, activist, and writer. Physician specializing in women's health and immigrant/refugee medicine. University of Washington, School of Medicine, Seattle, junior faculty member, 2000-03; Management Sciences for Health, Kabul, Afghanistan, senior program associate, 2004-05; Family Health Alliance, Los Angeles, CA, women's health adviser, 2006—; freelance writer, 2006—. Has also worked as an academic in Seattle, a humanitarian aid worker and underground salsa dance teacher in Kabul, and an aspiring musician in Havana, Cuba.


Phi Beta Kappa, Sigma Xi Scientific Honor Society, Alpha Omega Alpha.


University of Washington high merit full-tuition scholarship, 1988; Leadership America Scholar, 1990; M.A. Cartland Shackford Medical Fellowship Prize, 1991; Franklin Smith, M.D., Ph.D. Teaching Prize, 1993; Whiteley Center Scholar, 2001-04; Rainshadow Award for community service, 2004.


Aria, Harcourt (Orlando, FL), 2007.

Aria has been translated into Dutch, Portuguese, Taiwanese, Slovene, and Persian.

Contributor to the anthology This Side of Doctoring, edited by Eliza Lo Chin, Sage Press, 2003; contributor to periodicals, including Wellesley magazine and Hedgebrook Journal; contributor to numerous scientific journals, including the Journal of Adolescent Health, British Medical Journal, Journal of Sexual and Reproductive Health, and the Clinical Journal of Women's Health.


Nassim Assefi's first novel, Aria, was called "a small gem of a debut" by John Marshall in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. In the novel, Assefi tells the story of Yasaman (Jasmine) Talahi, an Iranian-American physician who seeks spiritual truth after her five-year-old daughter, Aria, accidentally dies. Aria's father also died before she was born, leaving Jasmine alone to travel the world, from Guatemala to Tibet. A Publishers Weekly contributor commented that the author's "themes—loss as physical distance and the spiritual harm that can result from solitary grieving—come through." Jasmine ultimately ends up in Iran, where her parents still live but reject Aria for her modern, Western lifestyle. Marshall noted: "Writer Assefi faces her greatest challenge in Talahi's return to Iran and proves equal to the daunting difficulty of depicting an estranged family's reunion in all its intensity and complexity." Other reviewers also praised the novel. "There is much of talent in this remarkable book," wrote Bob Williams on the Compulsive Reader Web site. "It is a serious meditation on the greatest misfortune in life and an interesting display of the growth of the persons involved." Williams went on to write that the novel "stands out as notable achievement and should appeal to many discriminating readers."

Assefi told CA: "My first novel, Aria, was the result of a ten-year gestation and an accident. Here is the story: In 1996, I was trapped alone in a monsoon in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. My best friend and travel companion had departed the day before. I had run out of books to read and had already written my postcards. I was a twenty-three-year-old medical student on holiday, a privileged Iranian-American with a lucky life unacquainted with suffering. As I waited for the rains to end, I had little else to do but sit with myself. The spiritually perplexing issues posed to me by my patients with unimaginably difficult lives percolated through my mind. I realized I was woefully unprepared for making sense of the maelstrom of sickness and dying that I was witnessing in the clinical setting, and I had no spiritual framework for understanding the experience of war on people's lives. I began to write. A novel was born, the story of how great loss might manifest in the context of a comfortable U.S. life. I had seen grief take a variety of forms in different parts of the world. This seemed worthy of further exploration. I kept writing after my return from Indonesia, stealing quiet moments in the interstices of medical work. Finally, in January of 2006, I was blessed to find a wonderful agent who sold the book almost immediately.

"I write best in the mornings, for a maximum of four hours. My most effective writing has been done at writing residencies. Writing is a long, slow process for me—sometimes years of gestation and percolation before I commit words to the computer screen, then rewriting, revising, and editing."

When asked the most surprising thing she has learned as a writer, Assefi answered: "Patience, perseverance, and following my instincts."

Her favorite of her books is "the one I'm currently composing because by the time I publish a book, it has taken so many years in production that I may have tired of the subject and feel critical about its writing quality.

"I hope to humanize misunderstood parts of the world, particularly the Middle East and Persian-speaking Asia (Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan). I hope my readers connect with my characters, change their preconceived notions about life in the Muslim world, and feel less willing to support U.S. invasions in the region. I believe that good stories can change the world."



Library Journal, February 15, 2007, Shalini Miskelly, review of Aria, p. 109.

Publishers Weekly, January 1, 2007, review of Aria, p. 28.

Seattle Post-Intelligencer, May 3, 2007, John Marshall, review of Aria.


Annie Appleseed Project Web site, (October 14, 2007), "Reiki for Fibromyalgia Studied in Seattle," information on author in physician role.

Bookslut, (October 14, 2007), Jill Meyers, review of Aria.

Compulsive Reader, (October 14, 2007), Bob Williams, review of Aria.

Curled Up with a Good Book, (October 14, 2007), Luan Gaines, review of Aria.

Howard Hughes Medical Institute, (April 27, 2006), "A Scientist-Novelist Helps Heal a People."

Nassim Assefi Home Page, (October 14, 2007).

Whit Press, (October 14, 2007), profile of author.

About this article

Assefi, Nassim

Updated About content Print Article