The Washington Post
The Blood of Flowers: A Novelby Anita Amirrezvani
In 17th-century Persia, a 14-year-old woman believes she will be married within the year. But when her beloved father dies, she and her mother find themselves alone and without a dowry. With nowhere else to go, they are forced to sell the brilliant turquoise rug the young woman has woven to pay for their journey to Isfahan, where they will work as servants for her uncle, a rich rug designer in the court of the legendary Shah Abbas the Great.
Despite her lowly station, the young woman blossoms as a brilliant designer of carpets, a rarity in a craft dominated by men. But while her talent flourishes, her prospects for a happy marriage grow dim. Forced into a secret marriage to
a wealthy man, the young woman finds herself faced with a daunting decision: forsake her own dignity, or risk everything she has in an effort to create a new life.
"Anita Amirrezvani has written a sensuous and transporting first novel filled with the colors, tastes and fragrances of life in seventeenth-century Isfahan...Amirrezvani clearly knows and loves the ways of old Iran, and brings them to life with the cadences of a skilled story-spinner." -- Geraldine Brooks, author of March
"An engrossing, enthralling tale of a girl's quest for self-determination in the fascinating other world that was seventeenth-century Iran." -- Emma Donoghue, author of Touchy Subjects and Life Mask
The Washington Post
In Iranian-American Amirrezvani's lushly orchestrated debut, a comet signals misfortune to the remote 17th-century Persian village where the nameless narrator lives modestly but happily with her parents, both of whom expect to see the 14-year-old married within the year. Her fascination with rug making is a pastime they indulge only for the interim, but her father's untimely death prompts the girl to travel with her mother to the city of Isfahan, where the two live as servants in the opulent home of an uncle—a wealthy rug maker to the Shah. The only marriage proposal now in the offing is a three-month renewable contract with the son of a horse trader. Teetering on poverty and shame, the girl weaves fantasies for her temporary husband's pleasure and exchanges tales with her beleaguered mother until, having mastered the art of making and selling carpets under her uncle's tutelage, she undertakes to free her mother and herself. With journalistic clarity, Amirrezvani describes how to make a carpet knot by knot, and then sell it negotiation by negotiation, guiding readers through workshops and bazaars. Sumptuous imagery and a modern sensibility (despite a preponderance of flowery language and schematic female bonding and male bullying) make this a winning debut. (June)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
This first novel by dance critic Amirrezvani is narrated by a nameless teenager whose life in 17th-century Iran is derailed by misfortune following her father's death. With no means of support, she and her mother move to the city of Isfahan to live as servants with relatives. There, despite the obstacle of gender, the young woman learns the art of carpet design. An even greater hurdle is her poverty; dowryless, she is pressured into a sigheh, or temporary marriage, in which the woman offers sexual favors in return for money. The story of the plucky narrator's rocky road toward independence is stirring and surprisingly erotic, as are the folktales narrated by her mother. The way these twin narrative strands eventually converge is especially satisfying. While some of the characters aren't as developed as a reader might desire (especially Fereydoon, the "temporary" husband) and the story doesn't always feel that it takes place 400 years ago, the main character is as complex and interesting as the patterns she weaves. Recommended for all libraries.
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The Blood of Flowers
By Anita Amirrezvani
Little, Brown and CompanyCopyright © 2007 Anita Amirrezvani
All right reserved.
Chapter OneIn the spring of the year that I was supposed to be married, a comet launched itself over the skies of my village. It was brighter than any comet we had ever seen, and more evil. Night after night, as it crawled across our skies spraying its cold white seeds of sorrow, we tried to decipher the fearsome messages of the stars. Hajj Ali, the most learned man in our village, traveled to Isfahan to fetch a copy of the chief astronomer's almanac so we would know what calamities to expect.
The evening he returned, the people of my village began assembling outside to listen to the predictions for the months ahead. My parents and I stood near the old cypress, the only tree in our village, which was decorated with strips of cloth marking people's vows. Everyone was looking upward at the stars, their chins pointing toward the sky, their faces grave. I was small enough to see under Hajj Ali's big white beard, which looked like a tuft of desert scrub. My mother, Maheen, pointed at the Sunderer of Heads, which burned red in the night sky. "Look how Mars is inflamed!" she said. "That will add to the comet's malice."
Many of the villagers had already noticed mysterious signs or heard of misfortunes caused by the comet. A plague had struck the north of Iran, killing thousands of people. An earthquake in Doogabad had trapped a bride in her home, suffocating her and her women guests moments before she was to join her groom. In my village, red insects that had never been seen before had swarmed over our crops.
Goli, my closest friend, arrived with her husband, Ghasem, who was much older than we were. She greeted me with a kiss on each cheek.
"How are you feeling?" I asked. Her hand flew to her belly.
"Heavy," she replied, and I knew she must be worried about the fate of the new life inside her.
Before long, everyone in my village had gathered, except for the old and the infirm. Most of the women were wearing bright bell-shaped tunics over slim trousers, with fringed head scarves over their hair, while the men were attired in long white tunics, trousers, and turbans. But Hajj Ali wore a black turban, indicating his descent from the Prophet Mohammad, and carried an astrolabe wherever he went.
"Good villagers," he began, in a voice that sounded like a wheel dragging over stones, "let us begin by heaping praise on the first followers of the Prophet, especially upon his son-in-law Ali, king of all believers."
"May peace be upon him," we replied.
"This year's predictions begin with poor news for our enemies. In the northeast, the Ozbaks will suffer an infestation of insects so fierce it will destroy their wheat. In the northwest, troop desertions will plague the Ottomans, and even farther west, in the Christian kingdoms, inexplicable diseases will disarrange the lips of kings."
My father, Isma'il, leaned toward me and whispered, "It's always good to know that the countries we're fighting are going to have miserable luck." We laughed together, since that's how it always was.
As Hajj Ali continued reading from the almanac, my heart skipped as if I were climbing a mountain. I was wondering what he would say about marriages made during the year, which was what I cared about the most. I began fiddling with the fringe on my head scarf, a habit my mother always urged me to break, as Hajj Ali explained that no harm would come to paper, books, or the art of writing; that earthquakes would occur in the south but would be mild; and that there would be battles great enough to tinge the Caspian Sea red with blood.
Hajj Ali waved the almanac at the crowd, which is what he did when the prediction he was about to read was alarming. His assistant, who was holding an oil lamp, jumped to move out of his way.
"Perhaps the worst thing of all is that there will be large and inexplicable lapses in moral behavior this year," he read, "lapses that can only be explained by the influence of the comet."
A low murmur came from the crowd as people began discussing the lapses they had already witnessed in the first days of the New Year. "She took more than her share of water from the well," I heard Zaynab say. She was Gholam's wife, and never had a good word to say about anyone.
Hajj Ali finally arrived at the subject that concerned my future. "On the topic of marriages, the year ahead is mixed," he said. "The almanac says nothing about those that take place in the next few months, but those contracted later this year will be full of passion and strife."
I looked anxiously at my mother, since I expected to be married at that time, now that I was already fourteen. Her eyes were troubled, and I could see she did not like what she had heard.
Hajj Ali turned to the last page in the almanac, looked up, and paused, the better to capture the crowd's attention. "This final prophecy is about the behavior of women, and it is the most disquieting of all," he said. "Throughout the year, the women of Iran will fail to be acquiescent."
"When are they ever?" I heard Gholam say, and laughter bubbled around him.
My father smiled at my mother, and she brightened from within, for he loved her just the way she was. People always used to say that he treated her as tenderly as if she were a second wife.
"Women will suffer from their own perverse behavior," Hajj Ali warned. "Many will bear the curse of sterility, and those who succeed in giving birth will wail in unusual pain."
My eyes met Goli's, and I saw my own fear reflected in hers. Goli was worried about childbirth, while I was troubled by the thought of a disorderly union. I prayed that the comet would shoot across the firmament and leave us undisturbed.
Seeing me shiver, my father wrapped a lamb's wool blanket over my shoulders, and my mother took one of my hands between hers and rubbed it to warm me. From where I stood in the center of my village, I was surrounded by the familiar sights of home. Not far away was our small mosque, its dome sparkling with tile; the hammam where I bathed every week, steamy inside and dappled with light; and the scarred wooden stalls for the tiny market that sprang up on Thursdays, where villagers traded fruit, vegetables, medicines, carpets, and tools. A path led away from the public buildings and passed between a cluster of mud-brick homes that sheltered all two hundred souls in my village, and it ended at the foot of the mountain and the rutted paths where my goats roamed for food. All these sights filled me with comfort, so that when my mother squeezed my hand to see how I was feeling, I squeezed back. But then I pulled my hand away because I didn't want to seem like a child.
"Baba," I whispered to my father in a small voice. "What if Hajj Ali's predictions about marriage come true?"
My father couldn't hide the concern in his eyes, but his voice was firm. "Your husband will pave your path with rose petals," he replied. "If at any time, he fails to treat you with honor ..."
He paused for a moment, and his dark eyes looked fierce, as if what he might do were too terrible to imagine. He started to say something, but then stopped himself.
"... you can always come back to us," he finished.
Shame and blame would follow a wife who returned to her parents, but my father didn't seem to care. His kind eyes crinkled at the corners as he smiled at me.
Hajj Ali concluded the meeting with a brief prayer. Some of the villagers broke off into family groups to discuss the predictions, while others started walking back to their homes. Goli looked as if she wanted to talk, but her husband told her it was time to go home. She whispered that her feet ached from the weight in her belly and said good night.
My parents and I walked home on the single mud lane that pierced the village. All the dwellings were huddled together on either side for warmth and protection. I knew the path so well I could have walked it blind and turned at just the right moment to reach our house, the last one before our village gave way to sand and scrub. My father pushed open our carved wooden door with his shoulders, and we entered our one-room home. Its walls were made of packed mud and straw brightened with white plaster, which my mother kept sparkling clean. A small door led to an enclosed courtyard where we enjoyed the sun without being seen by other eyes.
My mother and I removed our head scarves and placed them on hooks near the door, slipping off our shoes at the same time. I shook out my hair, which reached my waist. For good luck, I touched the curved ibex horns that glowed on a low stand near the door. My father had felled the ibex on one of our Friday afternoon walks. Ever since that day, the horns had held a position of pride in our household, and my father's friends often praised him for being as nimble as an ibex.
My father and I sat together on the red-and-brown carpet I had knotted when I was ten. His eyes closed for a moment, and I thought he looked especially tired.
"Are we walking tomorrow?" I asked.
His eyes flew open. "Of course, my little one," he replied.
He had to work in the fields in the morning, but he insisted he wouldn't miss our walk together for anything other than God's command. "For you shall soon be a busy bride," he said, and his voice broke.
I looked away, for I couldn't imagine leaving him.
My mother threw dried dung in the stove to boil water for tea. "Here's a surprise," she said, bringing us a plate of fresh chickpea cookies. They were fragrant with the essence of roses.
"May your hands never ache!" my father said.
They were my favorite sweets, and I ate far too many of them. Before long, I became tired and spread out my bedroll near the door, as I always did. I fell asleep to the sound of my parents talking, which reminded me of the cooing of doves, and I think I even saw my father take my mother in his arms and kiss her.
THE NEXT AFTERNOON, I stood in our doorway and watched for my Baba as the other men streamed back from the fields. I always liked to pour his tea for him before he walked in the door. My mother was crouched over the stove, baking bread for our evening meal.
When he didn't arrive, I went back into the house, cracked some walnuts and put them in a small bowl, and placed the irises I had gathered in a vessel with water. Then I went out to look again, for I was eager to begin our walk. Where was he? Many of the other men had returned from the fields and were probably washing off the day's dust in their courtyards.
"We need some water," my mother said, so I grabbed a clay jug and walked toward the well. On my way, I ran into Ibrahim the dye maker, who gave me a peculiar look.
"Go home," he said to me. "Your mother needs you."
I was surprised. "But she just told me to fetch water," I said.
"No matter," he replied. "Tell her I told you to go back."
I walked home as quickly as I could, the vessel banging against my knees. As I approached our house, I spotted four men bearing a limp bundle between them. Perhaps there had been an accident in the fields. From time to time, my father brought back stories about how a man got injured by a threshing tool, suffered a kick from a mule, or returned bloodied from a fight. I knew he'd tell us what had happened over tea.
The men moved awkwardly because of their burden. The man's face was hidden, cradled on one of their shoulders. I said a prayer for his quick recovery, for it was hard on a family when a man was too ill to work. As the group approached, I noticed that the victim's turban was wrapped much like my father's. But that didn't mean anything, I told myself quickly. Many men wrapped their turbans in a similar way.
The front bearers got out of step for a moment, and they almost lost hold of the man. His head lolled as though it were barely attached to his body, and his limbs had no life in them. I dropped the clay vessel, which shattered around my feet.
"Bibi," I whimpered. "Help!"
My mother came outside, brushing flour from her clothes. When she saw my father, she uttered a piercing wail. Women who lived nearby streamed out of their houses and surrounded her like a net while she tore the air with her sorrow. As she writhed and jumped, they caught her gently, holding her and stroking the hair away from her face.
The men brought my father inside and laid him on a bedroll. His skin was a sickly yellow color, and a line of saliva slid out of the corner of his mouth. My mother put her fingers near his nostrils.
"Praise be to God, he's still breathing!" she said.
Naghee, who worked with my father in the fields, didn't know where to look as he told us what had happened. "He seemed tired, but he was fine until this afternoon," he said. "Suddenly he grabbed his head and fell to the ground, gasping for air. After that, he didn't stir."
"May God spare your husband!" said a man I didn't recognize. When they had done all they could to make him comfortable, they left, murmuring prayers for good health.
My mother's brow was furrowed as she removed my father's cotton shoes, straightened his tunic, and arranged the pillow under his head. She felt his hands and forehead and declared his temperature normal, but told me to fetch a blanket and cover him to keep him warm.
The news about my father spread quickly, and our friends began arriving to help. Kolsoom brought the water she had collected from a spring near a saint's shrine that was known for its healing powers. Ibrahim took up a position in the courtyard and began reciting the Qur'an. Goli came by, her boy asleep in her arms, with hot bread and stewed lentils. I brewed tea to keep the warmth in everyone's body. I knelt near my father and watched his face, praying for a flutter of his eyelids, even a grimace-anything that would assure me life remained in his body.
Rabi'i, the village physician, arrived after night had fallen with cloth bags full of herbs slung on each shoulder. He laid them near the door and knelt to examine my father by the light of the oil lamp, which flickered brokenly. His eyes narrowed as he peered closely at my father's face. "I need more light," he said.
I borrowed two oil lamps from neighbors and placed them near the bedroll. The physician lifted my father's head and carefully unwound his white turban. His head looked heavy and swollen. In the light, his face was the color of ash, and his thick hair, which was flecked with gray, looked stiff and ashen, too.
Rabi'i touched my father's wrists and neck, and when he did not find what he was looking for, he laid his ear against my father's chest. At that moment, Kolsoom asked my mother in a whisper if she would like more tea. The physician lifted his head and asked everyone to be silent, and after listening again, he arose with a grave face and announced, "His heart beats, but only faintly."
"Ali, prince among men, give strength to my husband!" my mother cried.
Rabi'i collected his bags and removed bunches of herbs, explaining to Kolsoom how to brew them into a heart-enlivening medicine. He also promised to return the next morning to check on my father. "May God rain His blessings on you!" he said as he took his leave. Kolsoom began stripping the herbs off their stalks and throwing them into a pot, adding the water my mother had boiled.
As Rabi'i left, he stopped to talk with Ibrahim, who was still in the courtyard. "Don't halt your praying," he warned, and then I heard him whisper the words "God may gather him tonight."
I tasted something like rust on my tongue. Seeking my mother, I rushed into her arms and we held each other for a moment, our eyes mirrors of sorrow.
My father began to make wheezing sounds. His mouth was still slack, his lips slightly parted, and his breath rasped like dead leaves tossed by the wind. My mother rushed away from the stove, her fingers green from the herbs. She leaned over my father and cried, "Voy, my beloved! Voy!"
Kolsoom hurried over to peer at my father and then led my mother back to the stove, for there was nothing to be done. "Let us finish this medicine to help him," said Kolsoom, whose ever-bright eyes and pomegranate cheeks testified to her powers as an herbalist.
When the herbs had been boiled and cooled, Kolsoom poured the liquid into a shallow bowl and brought it to my father's side. While my mother raised his head, Kolsoom gently spooned the medicine into his mouth. Most of it spilled over his lips, soiling the bedroll. On the next try, she got the medicine into his mouth, but my father sputtered, choked, and for a moment appeared to stop breathing.
Kolsoom, who was usually so calm, put down the bowl with shaking hands and met my mother's eyes. "We must wait until his eyes open before we try again," she advised.
My mother's head scarf was askew, but she didn't notice. "He needs his medicine," she said weakly, but Kolsoom told her that he needed his breath more.
Ibrahim's voice was starting to sound hoarse, and Kolsoom asked me to attend to him. I poured some hot tea and served it to him with dates in the courtyard. He thanked me with his eyes but never stopped his reciting, as if the power of his words could keep my father alive.
Excerpted from The Blood of Flowers by Anita Amirrezvani Copyright © 2007 by Anita Amirrezvani . Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Meet the Author
Anita Amirrezvani was born in Tehran, Iran, and raised in San Francisco. For ten years, she was a dance critic for newspapers in the Bay Area. She has received fellowships from the National Arts Journalism Program, the NEA's Arts Journalism Institute for Dance, and the Hedgebrook Foundation for Women Writers. Amirrezvani is a student in the MFA program in fiction at San Francisco State University.
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The role of women in 17th-century Iran is the basis of this first novel – heart-breakingly, not so different from the role of middle-eastern women in many areas even today. The insight into the world of these women is well worth the read. The main character is teenage girl forced through circumstance to find a way to support her mother and herself. The sudden death of her father has left them without means and protection. Mercifully they are able to move from their small village to the city to live with her uncle. Their arrival is not well-received by her aunt, who considers them two more mouths to feed, and they end up as unpaid household help, working tirelessly at menial jobs, instead of as members of the family. The girl had begun developing skills as a carpet weaver prior to moving to the city. As luck would have it, her uncle is a master carpet designer for the Shah. He has no sons and allows the girl to work as his apprentice, learning designs and colors [the blood of flowers], and over time, through trial and error, she begins proving herself equal to the task. The background for this novel is as relevant today as it was 400 years ago. The women in the story are “nothing.” Without a male family member to support them they would be beggars. They have no income or means to aspire to a better life, though we see that the girl’s carpet-making skill may lead somewhere. That is until the son of a wealthy family appears in their lives with a marriage proposal. Unfortunately, due to the girl’s low class status, she is only offered a 3-month marriage contract, renewable if the man continues to desire her, and she will not live in his home. Her mother and uncle seize upon the opportunity and she is essentially sold into a life that requires a very different set of skills. This is a very moving story that details all the emotions and trials of the girl’s life -- fittingly, she remains namelss throughout the book.
As an Iranian woman and new novelist 'Aria', I try to read all the fiction and memoir published by Iranian-Americans. Anita Amirrezvani's beautiful novel is my new favorite in this genre. The Blood of Flowers, set in 17th Century Isfahan under rule by one of the greatest monarchs of Iran, details the lives of women from a Persian woman's perspective, a refreshing contrast from the limited view by Orientalist painters and expatriate adventurers. This is a coming of age story of a feisty teenage girl who finds herself in unsavory circumstances following the death of her father. Her passion for weaving carpets becomes the key to her survival and her adult education. With sumptuous prose and historically-accurate sensuality, Amirrezvani's debut novel is sure to become a favorite choice for book clubs, Ethnic Studies/Middle Eastern courses, and even young adult readers. In a time of mounting tension between Iran and the United States, we need books that open doors to Persian culture more than ever before. The Blood of Flowers is storytelling at its very best--it humanizes the people of Iran, brings alive a rich period in history little understood in the West, and unravels the intriguing mysteries of the Persian carpet.
The Blood of Flowers is a work of historical fiction set in 17th century Iran. This novel follows a young female protagonist born in a poor village to two loving parents. There, she learned to knot carpets. However, the girl's life changes abruptly, when her father dies following an accident, plunging the girl and her mother into poverty, hunger, and homelessness. They contact the distant, city- dwelling, half-brother of the girl's father and appeal for him to take them in. He does, but life is still very challenging for this mother and daughter. This book does a great job of conveying 17th century Persian and Islamic culture. Some of that culture is still in place today. One of the most interesting cultural revelations that came to me upon reading this novel was the idea of segehs. I had no idea that temporary, contractual "marriages" were practiced outside of certain sci-fi novels! This practice seems quite bizarre to my Western thinking. Among other things, it can allow someone to basically hire a prostitute for a short period of time or to contract a short term lover or mistress. It can also be used to make someone a "family member" for a period of time to allow a woman to show her face and hair in a home with unrelated men or boys over a certain age or to have a man help her travel or do business or something that a single woman cannot do. Obviously, in most cases, these arrangements negatively impact women, especially poor women, but it is covered by certain religious interpretations and law.
This novel, being set in 17th Century Iran, starts the reader off with a different setting then the normal, boring, and overused Medieval age up to Victorian age of Europe. Going more in detail of the central character, we see that she is a young adolescent girl trying to overcome her father’s death and going against the custom standers of a women doing supposedly a man’s job during that time. The language was shaped with such specifics I could clearly imagine what was going on in her point of view. As you read though the story, the theme of coming of age becomes more and more evident. With this book, Anita Amirrezvani has crafted a unique and rather enjoyable book.
I feared another sad story had been recommended to me, but found a compelling tale of a young woman's grit, courage, and tenacity. Very glad to have immersed myself in this well-written look at history.
A wonderful, well written story about rug making in Iran.
Blood of Flower refers to the sacrifice flowers make in yielding the dyes to color the wool that goes into the marking of carpets. It's a coming of age story of a young (nameless) woman living in Isfan in the 17th century. Well enough written. I had some trouble getting into it, but managed to be suspenseful and interesting.
Started off boring but then it picks up and gets really good. A book that is very touching and worth the read.
Two years ago I joined a book group to broaden my reading experience, but after finishing this selection, I'm tempted to rethink that decision. This book features, in more or less equal measures, details of 17th century Persian rug-making and class and gender subjugation during the same period. Unfortunately, the language of the narrative, along with the forthright spirit of the unnamed narrator, is purely 21st century. I suspect that this young woman would feel right at home in the author's northern California neighborhood. The book also told me more than I cared to know about the economics of sex at this particular place and time, although I question whether even the author would vouch for its historical accuracy.
An amazing narration of a young woman's struggle to survive and florish in man's society. With vivid scenes and strongly developed characters this book is hard to put down. Finally a decent insite into middle eastern feminine life and spirit.