Saturday, September 1, 2007

The Blood of Flowers by Anita Amirrezvani

Once there was a girl who could make glorious carpets from wool tinted with the essence of orange safflowers and pomegranates

In Persia, in the seventeenth century, a young woman is forced to leave behind the life she knows and move to a new city. Her father's unexpected death has upended everything - her expectation of marriage, her plans for the future - and cast her and her mother upon the mercy of relatives in the fabled city of Isfahan.

Her uncle is a wealthy designer of carpets for the Shah's court, and the young woman is instantly drawn to his workshop. She takes in everything - the dyes, the yarns, the meanings of the thousand ancient patters - and quickly begins designing carpets herself. This is men's work, but her uncle recognizes both her passion and her talent and allows her secretly to cross that line.

But then a single disastrous, headstrong act threatens her very existence and casts her and her mother into an even more desperate situation. She is forced into an untenable form of marriage, a marriage contract renewable monthly, for a fee, to a wealthy businessman. Caught between forces she can barely comprehend, she knows only that she must act on her own, risking everything, or face a life lived at the whim of others.

The world of medieval Persia comes alive in this luminous novel, from its dazzling architecture to its bustling markets with their baskets of spices and breathtaking turquoise-and-gold rugs. With spellbinding Persian tales and prose as radiant as the city of Isfahan, The Blood of Flowers is the remarkable adventure of one woman choosing a life - against all odds - on the strength of her own hands, mind and will.
Marg says:

Sometimes it is a real breath of fresh air to read about an unusual time and place, especially when the story is also well written and interesting! The setting for this book in 17th century Persia, during the time of Shah Abbas, and features a young girl who is trying to make her way into the male dominated world of carpet making.

The author was very skilled at weaving together both the story of the girl, but also details about the techniques used in the designing of carpets, in the selection of the colours to make the carpets, and the precision required by the carpet knotters. There are also several old Persian tales that have been interwoven into the narrative, used to illustrate and to guide our young heroine.

When one of the town elders brings back the almanac for the year, the small country town is interested to see what is destined for their lives - for marriages, births, the harvest etc. For one young girl in particular she is interested to hear what is going to come as she is now of a marriageable age. This year is an unusual one though. There has been a comet in the night sky, and everyone knows that that means bad luck. For the small but happy family, that ominous sign comes to eventuality when her father dies, leaving her and her mother to fend for themselves. After running out of resources, including those that were meant to be her dowry, the two head to the big city to request assistance from the brother of the husband and father.

Once in the city, the pair become basically house servants, but the young girl gets to visit the great carpet market making workshop owned by the Shah, which is run by her uncle, and gradually her uncle begins to teach her many of the secrets of the process, including design, colour selection and knotting with the most luxurious of threads.

After being caught acting rashly more than once, the young girl is contracted with a sigheh - a renewable marriage contract, that everyone involved in has agreed to keep this secret. The end result of this is given that there is now no dowry left, the girl is being forced to give away the only thing she has left of any value - her virginity. It takes a long time for our heroine to get used to the ways of her husband and to learn the secret of wifely enjoyment, and there are several times throughout the story that her mother is worried that the sigheh will not be renewed, which means that the contracted price won't be paid. It is quite an interesting contrast. By day the girl is a servant, subject to her aunt's somewhat nasty treatment, using every spare minute she has to learn to make carpets. By night, she is a wife, albeit subject to her husband's whims.

Life then offers a choice - to continue as things are, or to take a chance at having a different and more independent life. There are many lessons to be learned, and many of them are painful. There are times when things get much worse before they get better, but our girl's spirit is strong, and she is willing to learn the lessons that life is teaching her!

This book took 9 years to write, and you can tell that for the author this was a labour of love! It took me a couple of days to read it, and it was a joy to read! Filled with the colour and allure of different cultures and times, this is a really good read. I definitely hope to read more by this author!

Rating 4.5/5

Kailana Says:

Reason for Reading: Michelle Moran, author of Nefertiti, recommended it, saying that it was her favourite historical fiction novel and I am always looking for a good recommendation.

I read a fair amount of historical fiction, and I have to say, this is one of the more original historical fiction novels I have ever read. Most of the historical fiction that I have read takes place in Canada, the United States, Egypt, or the United Kingdom. This is the first time I have read a historical fiction novel, that I remember, set in 17th-century Persia.

During the 17th-century in this region, it was a male-dominated society. It is still this way in many Middle Eastern countries. In this novel, a young girl watches a comet shoots across the sky, and when it has passed life begins to change for her very drastically. She should have been finding her husband and moving on with her life, but her father dies unexpectedly and suddenly her and her mother have nothing. She has no dowry to find a husband, and they have no one to farm for them, so they are just barely getting by. A kind man comes to the village and asks them if there is anything he can do for them, and the mother implores him to track down her deceased husbands half-brother in the hopes that he will take them in and help them get back on their feet.

When they move from their village to the rather large Isfahan, life changes drastically for her and her mother. Suddenly they are not in control of their own household, and have to take orders from the wife of their father's brother. She is not very sympathetic, and looks upon them as new slaves for her household. She does not really know anything about domestic work, but she does have ideas about how it should be done. They live in riches, but she is always afraid that there will not be enough, so she is always looking for opportunities to gather more wealth for her husband.

Her niece opens up what she hopes will be a great business venture when a wealthy man asks to marry her. It is not a regular wedding, though, the marriage would only last for three months, and then he can request more time with her every three months after that. It could turn into a regular marriage, but in the process she will lose her virginity and this can jeopardize future relationships. It is a chance that her mother is willing to take because it will give her money. Her aunt wants it to happen because it could meet more business for her rug-making husband.

This book is about a girl in a very strict culture wishing for something more. She wants to be a rug-maker like her uncle, but that is not an opportunity that is allowed to women. Her uncle helps her, though, teaching her the tricks of his trade and allowing her to help him. When things get complicated with her marriage arrangement, she must decide on a safe course of action or one where her safety net could disappear. She has to decide whether her own future is more important than the safety the marriage is currently providing her with. This is a book about a girl that dares to break the rules of her society to better herself and live out her dreams.

Parting Thoughts: I loved this book! It was by far one of my favourite reads this year, as I stated in my Thursday Thirteen of favourite reads so far this year. It is a different sort of read for me, and a very worthwhile one at that. Especially considering it is her first novel, I think she did a wonderful job. I look forward to reading more from her and I strongly recommend this book.

1 comment: