When I met the heroine of this story, She had spark and spunk. She was unique and intelligent. Her passion and talent for the art of carpet making left an indelible impression on me. Turquoise will forever be magnificent. This particular hue in the story is a version of the color she learned to make herself. A turquoise so vivid and bright, I saw it in my mind’s eye. There was something about trying to understand a 17th century character, a girl, a woman, without a name – a deliberate omission by the author. I became more respectful, more engaged and completely resolved to pay attention to every detail in my life, because of what I learned from her. It is a sad tale, yet, It is saturated with color. It is about understanding a culture steeped in tradition. It is about wealth and poverty and the role of a woman. You imagine the blue of each thread is plucked directly from the sky- a divine gift of sorts. The yellow from a sun flower and the red from blood and the earth. They combine in a variety of exotic mixes, woven into tiny knots by the achingly numb fingers of this beautiful girl, into something that can only be described as art. I will never look at a Persian rug the same way again. Every rug has a story and every thread some blood. To pay its price is to appreciate true artistry.
The story takes place in Isfahan, Iran, formally Persia. A young girl with humble beginnings, looks forward to falling in love, a marriage that is true, deep, and a love that lasts an eternity. When her beloved father dies, her circumstances change immediately. A sign of the times of course. She is deemed unworthy of a suitable marriage, she sells her magnificent turquoise carpet to pay for her journey to Isfahan and leaves her village with her mother and a heavy heart, to live with relatives. The relatives issue a warm welcome but it becomes clear as they begin their new lives, they are indebted to them, almost condemned to a life of servitude. As the young girl builds a relationship with her uncle, himself a skilled carpet maker, (with no son to take over his business), her talent begins to shine and he takes a certain amount of pride in her work. However, it is soon revealed that the young girl is to enter into a “sigheh” – a marriage with a contract, to be renewed if the girl lives up to her partner’s expectations. In other words, this marriage is not symbolic, nor is it significant. It is a form of prostitution, only slightly elevated by the renewable contract. The young girl is shocked by the expectations and one scene in particular broke my heart. It is when she is being prepared for the night by servants… scrubbed as if she is dirty, shaved and washed as if she is impure, yet her strength remains as she loses something of herself. She does gain confidence eventually and her carpet weaving skills soar. Again I say, this story speaks to women in so many ways.
The narrator’s relationship with her mother, in particular, at this latter stage is sometimes tempestuous, sometimes so gentle, I wanted to carry them out of the house and look after them myself. The one feature that stands out, as she grows in leaps and bounds in character, is her determination to succeed as a famous carpet maker. You see it is not just about the tiny knots painstakingly woven in one by one, it is in fact a life time that is woven into each carpet, so every carpet tells a story. It reminds me of the stunning tapestries I saw at the Vatican museum and one of my favorite books – Tracy Chevalier’s ‘ Lady and The Unicorn.’
The young girl’s layers unfold in tiny revealing bits. I love it when an author has decided her heroine must bear strife, must rise from the depths of misery and must be emboldened by her ability to sacrifice, to lose and then to find glory. I realized at the end of this book, that I didn’t want to know her name, because I had already given her my own name.To say I don’t like certain parts of this book is unkind because the author spent nine years researching this book. It is always a feat. It takes courage to take on a theme such as this, even if it is about your heritage. I will say however, that I was eager to get past the details on the renewable marriage contract. It felt a little heavy and I didn’t want to keep reading about it. It may have been essential to the story but it lost me as a reader a couple of times. I particularly enjoyed reading the back of the book, finding out little snippets about the author. They always reveal a little of themselves in their novels. This is so beautifully written and Anita Amirrezvani’s début novel, I am fascinated by her history and the fact that she is a local, living in the Bay Area.
Blood of Flowers By Anita Amirrezvani
Paperback, 377 pages
Published June 2007 by Little, Brown and Company