Monday, May 19, 2008

The Blood of Flowers by Anita Amirrezvani

The Blood of Flowers
By Anita Amirrezvani
Completed May 18, 2008

In her The Blood of Flowers, Anita Amirrezvani explored the lives of 16th century Iranian women and the art of making Persian rugs. It was an interesting juxtaposition as rug making was predominantly a male profession during this time, but it was the women, in particular the unnamed narrator, who had a special gift for making these famous carpets.

The narrator is an unmarried 15-year old girl who lived in a village with her parents. Upon the untimely death of her father, the girl and her mother moved to Isfahan, the beautiful capital of Iran, to live with the girl’s uncle, one of the royal rug makers. The women endured continued hard ships in their new home, relegated to live as servants under their family’s roof with bleak marriage prospects for the girl. The narrator though was more interested in rug making than marriage, and under her uncle’s tutelage, she started her unofficial internship (women were not allowed to be apprentices) in the art form of creating Persian rugs. For the narrator, it was her success as a rug maker, not scoring a wealthy husband, that would better guarantee her financial freedom.

However, it was 16th century Iran, and the reality that she must marry became evident to the narrator, especially under the pressures of her mother and aunt. A wealthy horse owner soon offered the girl a sigheh, a three-month marriage contract that could be renewed if the husband was pleased with his wife. In effect, the sigheh was a form of prostitution – money in return for sex – and the best the wife could hope for was to sexually entertain her husband enough to inspire a renewal, or to get pregnant to secure an income as the mother of her husband’s child. Faced with no other prospects, the narrator suffered this indignity to provide income to her family.

The characters in this book were deftly drawn, and the reader felt a real attachment to them, especially the narrator. She was strong and impulsive, often making mistakes despite her best intentions. You saw her growth as a person, and one could not help but root for her. She definitely had a stroke of bad luck and personal issues, but Amirrezvani invested you in her life with each page.

In addition to strong characterization, the passages about making the rugs and the descriptions of Isfahan were exquisite. Amirrezvani’s uses of color to illuminate these sections of the book were unusual and successful – and added great dimension to the story.

I highly recommend The Blood of Flowers to readers who enjoy learning more about the history of women in different countries or who have an interest in Persian history. Anita Amirrezvani was long-listed for the Orange Prize for this book, and it’s not surprising why. It’s a story that will stick with you for a long time. ( )

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