The Blood of Flowers

The Blood of Flowers, by Anita Amirrezvani, is a coming of age story set in 17th
century Persia.  Written in first person narration, the speaker is a
grown woman recalling her adolescence.  As a 14 year old village girl,
she looks forward to becoming engaged that year. She describes herself
as attractive but not beautiful.  Yet she is imaginative and creative
and has taught herself the art of rug-making.  In fact, she has made a
beautiful turquoise rug that she hopes may serve as her dowry.

But
when her beloved father dies, life changes drastically for her and her
mother. The narrator must sell her rug to have some money.  Having no
means of support, they travel to Isfahan to live with the family of her
father's half-brother, Gostaham. Gostaham is a rug designer in the court of the famed Shah Abbas. His wife, the daughter of a famous
rug-maker for whom Gostaham was an apprentice, treats them as servants. 
The only bright side is that Gostaham is willing to teach this young
girl the fine art of rug making and ultimately, rug design.

Amirrezvani uses
evocative language to describe the rugs and how they are made.  But she
does not glamorize the lives of the women who made them.  Though the
medium of her narrator, she writes:

I had heard
stories about women who became deformed by long hours of sitting at the
loom, so that when they tried to deliver a child, their bones formed a
prison locking the baby inside. (Both) would die after many hours of
anguish.  Even the youngest knotters suffered aching backs, bent limbs,
tired fingers, exhausted eyes.  All our labors were in service of
beauty, but sometimes it seemed as if every thread in a carpet had been
dipped in the blood of flowers.
(p. 351) 

Likewise,
women's lives were hard in other ways.  Neither poor nor wealthy women
could choose their husbands: these were chosen for them by their
parents.  A good dowry would ensure a wealthy man but not necessarily a
kind one.  Such is the fate of Naheed, the narrator's friend.  The
narrator's choices are still more limited. In order to help family
finances, she is forced into a secret marriage with a wealthy man.  She
continues to live with Gostaham and his wife and servants, but spends
nights with this man whenever he requests her presence.  This contract
is for three-month periods renewable at the man's request.

The
reader is reminded again and again of how little power women had at
that time under Muslim law.  The narrator has a very strong will and
asserts her desires in a manner unheard of at that time.
In the home of Gostaham, the narrator proves to be an able and talented student.. She weaves her rugs during spare moments,
forgoing sleep when necessary. Aspiring to be a great designer, she knows she can never sign her own pieces because of her gender.  Still, she relishes the sense of well-being her work gives her and
hopes for economic independence.  Given the belief system around her, this is no ordinary aspiration.

The Blood of Flowers
is a perfect book for those wishing to learn more about Persian society and the art of hand-woven rugs. 
Amirrezvani paints lush details of the city of Isfahan, teeming with
life and natural beauty. Likewise her depiction of the life of women in
17th Century Iran is as captivating as it is disturbing.  One point of
note, though--there is explicit sexual content in this book that might
offend some readers. Although the story is of a young girl, this book is not intended for a middle-school child.

If you are interested in fiction set in the Middle East, this book should definitely be put on your reading list.

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