Saturday, April 20, 2013

The Blood of Flowers by Anita Amirrezvani

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The Blood of Flowers is a historical novel set in 17th century Iran during the reign of Shah Abbas the Great. It's the story of a young woman who spends her first years in a small village, then, after the death of her father, moves to Isfahan, a large center of commerce. The culture and economy is male dominated, so when the narrator loses her father, she and her mother have to depend on the good will of an uncle, who is a carpet maker for the Shah. (The uncle's wife isn't thrilled with the extra expenses that come with these two relatives.)

The narrator is also an excellent carpet maker. Perhaps the talent runs in the family, but it still feels like a coincidence that this young woman ends up in a place where she can develop her skills. The book's one weakness is the author's use of coincidences. This is one. There's another later in the book that is critical to the plot.

The culture also has a tradition that seems to benefit the men in this male dominated society. Men, who can have many wives, can also marry some of them for short periods of time. A marriage like this is called a sigheh and can range from months to an hour in length. A sigheh is legal, but doesn't have the status of a full marriage. The roles of the women in these marriages seem to fall somewhere between the position of a permanent wife and a prostitute. The shorter the length of time for a singheh the less status there is. However, there are financial benefits to a sigheh marriage and the children of those marriages are generally acknowledged.

I loved the way this book transported me to a culture that is so different from our modern one. There were so many instances where characters were forced to act or dress (picheh and chador) in ways that seemed unfair, but this was all they knew so the rules didn't bother them. Yet in some ways the narrator overcame gender traditions, specifically when it came to her carpets.

The other part of the book that I found fascinating was the relationship between the narrator and her mother. They always loved each other, but sometimes disappointed each other as well. And often, because of the cultural differences, the one I saw as the guilty party and the one they saw as the guilty party were not the same.

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