Published by Little, Brown and Company
Review by J. S. Greer
Set in seventeenth-century Persia, The Blood of Flowers is narrated by a 13-year-old girl (who is never given a name) whose father dies suddenly just before her arranged marriage is supposed to happen. Upon his death, she and her mother are left almost penniless and unable to sustain themselves. She also no longer has a dowry or even a chance of getting one, and the marriage does not take place.
After a difficult winter, she and her mother set out for the house of an uncle, Gostaham, in Isfahan. Gostaham is a carpet designer who even supplied a few carpets for the Shah's court, and they are hopeful that he will take them into his home. They are taken in, but they are relegated to domestic duties by Gordiyeh, Gostaham's wife, and are treated much like the household servants.
The young girl was known as a skilled carpet maker in her hometown, possessing the ability to make very small, tight, and precise knots. In her uncle's shop, and indeed in that part of the country, females were not considered important enough to be trained as carpet makers. She is persistent, though, and her uncle starts showing her how to make dyes, choose colors, and even lets her start her own rug when she does not have chores. After receiving criticism over the rug she is working on, without thoroughly thinking through the consequences, the girl cuts the rug from the weaving frame, thereby destroying it. Gostaham is very angry and ready to throw them out for this waste of his resources, but the girl and her mother promise to work even harder around the house to earn their keep.
One of Gostaham's clients is fascinated by the girl and eventually offers a marriage contract. Unfortunately, it's a renewable contract, called a sigheh which lasted only three months, and which did not promise any type of security for the girl and her mother. It does offer a price which would help them pay the uncle for taking them in and for the rug that was ruined, so they accept the contract. This lesser marriage carried a social stigma, so they decided to tell nobody outside the immediate family of this arrangement. At first, the girl could not fathom why other women talked excitedly about how wonderful they found the act of sex. After reaching the end of her contract and a renewal not being forthcoming, she mentioned being unhappy with sex to a woman at the bath house she frequented. She got advice on how to tempt the man, make herself more desirable to him, and enjoy lovemaking. This worked well beyond her hopes and he then decided to renew their contract. The day came, however, when her husband chose a permanent wife, who turned out to be the girl's best friend, Naheed. When Naheed discovered the renewable contracts between her husband and the girl, the two girls found themselves locked into a power struggle. Realizing she lacked any leverage as the lesser wife and not wanting to lose her friendship with Naheed, the girl refused a continuation of her marriage agreement. This led to Gostaham losing many carpet commissions, and the girl and her mother were finally thrown out of his house after a physical altercation.
Distraught at the possibility of being homeless, the girl and her mother sought out Malekeh, a woman who has worked with the girl on a carpet at Gostaham's business. She agreed to take them in, although it made for an overcrowded house with Malekeh's husband and children. It was usually cold, damp, and they where often hungry. The girl was ready to offer her body to the local butcher for some meat, but she decided first to ask Gostaham for the money. Feeling guilty, he finally agreed. The girl realized that Gostaham's money could be her last chance to make her own way as a carpet maker.
Anita Amirrezvani's novel works well as historical fiction, combining an engaging plot with an exotic time and place. The unnamed girl's travails in a society where women typically had no power and influence, while easy to understand, stands in sharp contrast to modern times. At the same time, Anita Amirrezvani's narrator is imbued with enough determination and intelligence to find a way to survive, if not thrive, and find her own path in a world that appears to conspire against her.
The plot in The Blood of Flowers flows smoothly and quickly. While not a novel of taut suspense, the threads of the young narrator's life and her relationships with the different women in her life create a literary fabric that might rival the Persian carpets of the story.
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