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The Luminous Heart of Jonah S.


Part murder mystery and part family saga, this dramatic and often hilarious novel explores the history of Los Angeles’s Iranian Jewish community.

$16.95 $12.71

Available as an e-book for:

What people are saying…

Longlisted for the 2016 International Dublin Literary Award

Finalist for the Jewish Book Council’s 2014 JJ Greenberg Memorial Award

One of The Margins‘s 100 Essential Books by Iranian Writers

“Lyrical, shrewd, and daring novelist Nahai . . . writes with acute emotional and nearly anthropological perception, laser-wit, and deep compassion. . . . With touches of magic realism, extraordinary characters, and a spiraling, multigenerational plot involving fraud, a murder mystery, epic suffering, heroic generosity, women’s struggle for freedom, and the clash between East and West, Nahai’s mythic, tragic, often beautiful immigrant family saga illuminates timeless questions of prejudice, trauma, inheritance, loyalty, and love.”
Booklist, Starred review

“A riveting tale. . . . Readers will be well rewarded.”
Publishers Weekly, Starred review

“A wide-ranging, page-turning, magical realist, multigenerational family saga and Iranian-Jewish-American immigration tale enveloped in a murder mystery . . . it both entertains and instructs, and its differing genres seem more complimentary than conflicting.”
New York Journal of Books

“Nahai has crafted an engaging combination of family saga and murder mystery, placed it in the framework of a relatively unknown subculture, and people it with fascinating characters. Flavored with both elements of magical realism and down-to-earth observations, The Luminous Heart of Jonah S. brings a little-known Los Angeles community to vivid life.”
Shelf Awareness

“What results is a novel that feels more universal than anything, and an engrossing, expansive epic that charts not only thousands years of Iranian Jewish life, but the brutality of one family’s survival amidst revolution and cultural upheaval.”
Kirkus Reviews, Feature on Gina B. Nahai

“A bold, brave novel . . . as surprising as it is satisfying. . . . Captivating.”

“One of the many pleasures of this sprawling, multigenerational story is the way it transcends the specifics of the Iranian diaspora with insights that could apply to anyone.”
LA Weekly

“One of Nahai’s gifts is her astute observation of this community, her own, which she describes with unsparing precision.”
Los Angeles Review of Books

The Luminous Heart of Jonah S. is a masterpiece that is simultaneously poetic in its unfurling, trans-generational plot, and brutally to the point in the style of a hard-boiled crime novel . . . This is a book you should not miss.”
San Francisco Book Review

“Nahai’s eye for detail, whether it’s succinctly summing up a funeral or providing a description of a Tehran summer, always seems to be spot on.”

“An intriguing murder-mystery journey anchored within the Iranian-Jewish community of Los Angeles. Vivid and raw . . . Nahai masterfully introduces us to the mythical and mundane layers that make up Iranian-American identity.”
Washington Independent Review of Books

“This is irresistible storytelling . . . Nahai uses her estimable gifts to offer a nuanced, sometimes satirical portrait of the tight-knit Iranian-Jewish exile community in Los Angeles . . . It’s a fascinating read.”

“It’s the family connections—the true Iranian heritage—that is the luminous heart of the novel.”
The Reporter Group

“Prose that mixes the magical realism of Gabriel García Márquez with the hard-boiled, Los Angeles based detective fiction of Raymond Chandler . . . [Nahai] knows first-hand the community she describes, and she depicts her characters with a loving if sometimes amused eye. This novel feels personal, which makes the story all the more compelling. This is a magic carpet ride you’ll want to take.”
The New York Jewish Week

“Intoxicating . . . And Nahai brings a sharp social satirist’s eye to all of post-millennial multi-cultural L.A.”
San Diego Jewish World

“Nahai has crafted a story that will move you with its exploration of the bonds that tie a family together or tear it asunder.”
San Diego Jewish Journal

“[Nahai’s] novel has an intoxicating and driving rhythm that pulls you right in . . . [a] beautiful book.”
Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles

“Soaring . . . . In a sweeping epic of melodrama and magical realism, Nahai gives us one family’s story, spanning two continents and three generations. It is a portrait of a community in full, and how all the interlocking figures that make up today’s Persian village-within-a-city somehow fall short of their deepest aspirations—that is, to return to a time gone by, a place no longer theirs.”
Lilith Magazine

“A sprawling and unlikely combination of Dickens, Gabriel García Márquez and Raymond Chandler, sweeping in the super-rich and the struggles of both Tehran and Los Angeles.”
The National (UAE)

“Simultaneously ironic, dramatic, and witty.”
—BBC, Ten Books to Read in October

“An energetically inventive epic . . . Nahai’s boisterous, sardonic, sometimes-lurid portrait of a community and the devil in its midst offers unusual, engrossing storytelling.”
Kirkus Reviews

The Luminous Heart of Jonah S. is a tale to be savored . . . This is a wonderful novel and [I] highly recommend it.”
Esoteric Moment

One of Jewish Journal‘s Noteworthy Books for the New Year

One of Jewish Woman Magazine‘s 8 Great Fall Reads

One of Publishers Weekly‘s Big Indie Books of Fall 2014

One of Library Journal‘s 25 Key Indie Fiction Titles for Fall 2014–Winter 2015

“Orange Prize and IMPAC Award finalist Nahai (Moonlight on the Avenue of Faith) returns after seven years with a distinctive look at Iranian Jewish life in America, featuring a Los Angeles–based family hounded for decades by an unprincipled financier from their own community. His disappearance upends everything.”
Library Journal Prepub Alert, “25 Key Indie Fiction Titles, Fall 2014–Winter 2015”

Included in Library Journal‘s Books That Buzzed at BEA Roundup, the first word on titles and trends from Barbara Hoffert, Editor

“With The Luminous Heart of Jonah S., Orange Prize and IMPAC Award finalist Gina B. Nahai returns after seven years with another novel of bristly beauty, offering a distinctive look at Iranian Jewish life in America.”
Library Journal, Books for the Masses/Editors’ Picks BEA 2014

“Part murder mystery and part family saga, [Nahai’s] latest novel, a fiction finalist for the 2014 National Jewish Book Award, features a wealthy Iranian Jewish family, plagued by a shady Los Angeles businessman who has long claimed to be the heir to the family’s fortune. When he is found murdered and then his body disappears, there is a long list of possible suspects.”
Library Journal, Jewish Fiction Roundup

“Gina B. Nahai has written a brilliant, funny, poignant, and thrilling novel about an Iranian Jewish family’s struggle to find its identity in exile in America. Part murder mystery, part comic novel, The Luminous Heart of Jonah S. is a book you will not be able to put down.”
—Reza Aslan, author of Zealot and No god but God

“Gina B. Nahai uses her gift for storytelling to add to the pantheon of American immigrant tales, but this time with an Iranian Jewish twist. This novel not only entertains, but asks the bigger question: do immigrants reinvent themselves in America or simply live out their destinies?”
—Firoozeh Dumas, author of Funny in Farsi

“Gina B. Nahai has given us a remarkable new work—part murder mystery, part lyrical novel, part sociological study of Iranian Jewish culture between Tehran and LA. Her sections on old Jewish Iran are simply transcendent; her insights into the Iranian exile culture in California, its excesses and vulnerabilities, are fascinating to read. Nahai brings a mystical touch to whatever she describes, reminding us of the magic—and at times dark and terrifying forces—of this world that so many were forced to leave behind, but continued to carry within them even decades later and thousands of miles away in America. Bravo.”
—Lucette Lagnado, author of The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit and The Arrogant Years

“Equal parts Gabriel García Márquez, Isaac Bashevis Singer, and Persian Bonfire of the Vanities, this is Gina B. Nahai’s breakout book, a quantum leap forward in ambition, humor, and scope that’s sure to win her legions of new fans and catapult her onto ‘Best Book of the Year’ and award short lists. Set in 1950s–’90s Tehran and LA, and gleefully skewering the excesses of both, Nahai’s assured, masterly voice sweeps the reader in with its page-turning murder plot, but it’s her colorful characters—who are by turns diabolical, hilarious, poignant, scheming, vengeful, tragic, and lovelorn—who form this book’s pulsing, exuberant heart.”
—Denise Hamilton, author of Damage Control

“Gina B. Nahai’s new novel is a boisterous, sometimes hilarious look at a community rarely seen in America. The Iranian Jewish families here fight for the same thing we all fight for—recognition and, of course, love.”
—Susan Straight, author of Between Heaven and Here

Praise for Gina B. Nahai:

“A skilled and inventive writer.”
New York Times Book Review

“Nahai’s writing recalls that of Gabriel García Márquez and Amy Tan, yet her prose bears its own stamp of inventiveness and vivacity . . . A modern-day Scheherazade.”
Orlando Sentinel

“From her clear-eyed yet deeply emphatic perch in the New World, Nahai sounds the emotional costs of exile as she explores the trauma of loss for her fellow émigrés. She is, after all, that subculture’s finest chronicler.”
Chicago Tribune


From Tehran to Los Angeles, The Luminous Heart of Jonah S. is a sweeping saga that tells the story of the Soleymans, an Iranian Jewish family tormented for decades by Raphael’s Son, a crafty and unscrupulous financier who has futilely claimed to be an heir to the family’s fortune. Forty years later in contemporary Los Angeles, Raphael’s Son has nearly achieved his goal—until he suddenly disappears, presumed by many to have been murdered. The possible suspects are legion: his long-suffering wife; numerous members of the Soleyman clan exacting revenge; the scores of investors he bankrupted in a Ponzi scheme; or perhaps even his disgruntled bookkeeper and longtime confidant.

Award-winning novelist Gina B. Nahai pulls back the curtain on a close-knit community that survived centuries of persecution in Iran before settling and thriving in the United States, but now finds itself divided to the core by one of its own members. By turns hilarious and affecting, The Luminous Heart of Jonah S. examines the eternal bonds of family and community, and the lasting scars of exile.

Read excerpts from The Luminous Heart of Jonah S. at Ravishly, The Nervous Breakdown, and Truthdig (with words from Truthdig editor in chief Robert Scheer).

Read the first chapter of The Luminous Heart of Jonah S. excerpted at The Jewish Journal: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5.

Read features on Gina B. Nahai at Kirkus Reviews and the Jewish Daily Forward.

Read a feature on The Luminous Heart of Jonah S. at Examiner.com.

Check out a music playlist compiled by Gina B. Nahai and inspired by The Luminous Heart of Jonah S. at Largehearted Boy.

Read interviews with Gina B. Nahai at Los Angeles Magazine, Los Angeles Times, and The Rumpus.

Click here to read Gina B. Nahai’s self-interview at The Nervous Breakdown.

Visit Jewish Journal to read all about Gina B. Nahai’s discussion on the Persian Jewish community at Sinai Temple in Los Angeles.

Watch an interview with Gina B. Nahai at Connie Martinson Talks Books:

Book Details

  • Paperback: 380 pages
  • Published: 10/7/14
  • IBSN: 9781617753206
  • e-IBSN: 9781617753299
  • Hardcover: 380 pages
  • IBSN: 9781617753213


GINA B. NAHAI is a best-selling author, columnist, and full-time lecturer at USC’s Master of Professional Writing Program. Her novels have been translated into eighteen languages, and have been selected as “Best Books of the Year” by the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune. She has also been a finalist for the Orange Prize, the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, and the Harold U. Ribalow Prize, and has won the Los Angeles Arts Council Award, the Persian Heritage Foundation’s Award, the Simon Rockower Award, and the Phi Kappa Phi Award. Her writing has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, San Francisco Chronicle, Los Angeles magazine, Publishers Weekly, and the Huffington Post, among others. She writes a monthly column for the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles, and is a three-time finalist for an LA Press Club Award. Nahai holds a BA and a Masters degree in International Relations from UCLA, and a Master of Professional Writing from USC. She’s a former consultant for the Rand Corporation, and a frequent lecturer on the politics of pre- and postrevolutionary Iran. The Luminous Heart of Jonah S. is her latest novel.

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