Blood of Flowers (Amirrezvani)

The Blood of Flowers 
Anita Amirrezvani, 2007
Little, Brown & Co.
378 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780316065771

At the age of fourteen, a young woman in 17th-century Persia believes she will be married within the year. But when her beloved father dies, collapsing in the field where he works with the other men from their village, there is no hope for a dowry. Alone and penniless, she and her grieving mother are forced to sell the brilliant turquoise rug the young woman has woven,meant, of course, for her married life, to pay for their journey to Isfahan.

There they will work as servants for her uncle Gostaham, a rich rug designer in the court of the Shah, and be lorded over by Gostaham's wife. Despite her lowly station, the young woman blossoms as a brilliant weaver of carpets, a rarity in a craft dominated by men.

But while her artistic gift flourishes, her prospects for a happy marriage grow dim. Forced into a secret marriage with a man who will never take her as his first wife, the young woman is faced with a daunting decision: forsake her own dignity, or risk everything she has in an effort to maintain it.

Amirrezvani infuses her story with lush detail, brilliantly bringing to life the sights sounds and life of 17th-century Isfahan: The dazzling architecture; the exotic Persian foods; the breathtakingly beautiful rugs. A sweeping love story, a powerful coming-of-age story, and a luminous portrait of a city, this is a universal tale of one woman's struggle to live a life of her choosing. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Birth—November 13, 1961
Where—Tehran, Iran
Raised—San Francisco, California, USA
Education—B.A., University of California-Berkeley; M.F.A,
   San Francisco State University
Currently—lives in San Francisco

Born in Tehran, Anita Amirrezvani was raised by her mother in San Francisco following her parent's divorce. By the time she was 13, she was visiting Iran to spend time with her father and his side of her family—complete with 11 cousins and two young half-brothers.

While visiting Tehran in 1979, the country became embroiled in the Islamic Revolution; her father, deciding the country was too dangerous, packed up his family, including Anita, and left the country, for what they hoped would be a short time. After two years at Vassar, Amirrezvani transferred to Berkeley in California, attaining her B.A. in English. After college, Amirrezvani worked as a journalist, spending 10 years as a dance critics and arts writer for two newspapers in the San Francisco Bay Area. (
From the publishers.)

Her own words:

It took me about five years to get to the end of the first draft, and I didn’t tell anyone I was working on a novel until then. As part of my research, I spent a lot of time reading about Iranian history and literature in university library stacks. I also asked my father and stepmother to take me to Isfahan on two separate occasions in order to be able to describe the settings in my novel. One of my fondest memories is sharing hot tea and cookies with them at a teahouse on one of Isfahan’s historic bridges while watching the river rush by. (From the author's website.)

Book Reviews
Anita Amirrezvani's first novel is about the costs and consolations of beauty, and is itself so picturesque that it often seems a striking variation on its own theme…The narrator recounts stories of women and children who spend years making knots until their limbs are twisted and their eyes worn out. "All our labors were in service of beauty," she muses, "but sometimes it seemed as if every thread in a carpet had been dipped in the blood of flowers." Is this art worth such sacrifice? Interestingly, the author, who is a former dance critic, argues most effectively for art's sake not through plot or character but through a series of artful tableaux: women congregating in a public bath; merchants haggling in the city's great bazaar; teeming slums and serene pleasure palaces; "turquoise and lemon domes basking in the morning light." Enduring and dynamic, these living pictures turn a conventional historical novel into a more rarefied object, like a fine old carpet.
Donna Rifkind - Washington Post

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

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.
Publishers Weekly

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.
Evelyn Beck - Library Journal

Long ago, in distant Iran, a poor village girl with a gift for carpet-knotting suffered many setbacks on her journey to womanhood and self-fulfillment. Stories-within-the-story and richly colored glimpses of Isfahan society, both high and low, as well as much detail on the business of designing and creating carpets, swell the pages of Amirrezvani's novel, a devoted tale of ill fate as portended by a passing comet. The nameless teenage heroine, a favored only child in a tiny community, suddenly loses her father and then her dowry, forcing her to relocate, along with her mother, to the city, to live under the protection of a relative, Gostaham, who works as a master in the Shah's carpet-making workshop and permits his niece to watch and learn while he works, even though, as a female, she will never be able to take up a job alongside men. She catches the eye of Fereydoon, a wealthy horse-trader's son, but being too lowly to become his formal wife, is forced instead to accept a sigheh-a secret, three-month, renewable contract with him. Fereydoon is an indifferent lover until she learns to please him, but then the situation darkens when he takes for his proper wife her closest friend. The headstrong heroine, devoid of love, friendship and true security, decides to end the sigheh, but her rashness results in her and her mother's expulsion onto the streets. Hunger, illness and beggary follow, but the girl learns wisdom and responsibility, regains Gostaham's favor, becomes carpet-maker (with her own all-female workshop) to the Shah's harem and looks forward to finding another husband of her own choosing. A lavishly detailed debut, in which some of the simple values of a folktale are woven together with richer (and more modern) women-centered life lessons.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions 
1. What do you think is the significance of the novel's title? How does it work metaphorically, and in what ways does it reflect on the narrator and the story itself?

2. How would you describe Anita Amirrezvani's writing style, and what do you think this style contributes to the novel? Did you find anything striking or unusual about the way the story unfolds? Did it remind you of anything you have read before?

3. How much did you know about Iranian history and culture before reading this book? Did anything in the story strike you as completely unlike—or surprisingly reminiscent of—our lives today? What do you think you gain from reading about a period in history in a novel, as opposed to in a nonfictional, historical account?

4. The author decided to leave the narrator anonymous, as is the tradition in many folktales. When, if ever, did you realize that you didn't know the narrator's name? What effect did the anonymity have on you as a reader? Does it matter whether or not we know a character's name?

5. Why do you think the author chose to include a number of Iranian tales throughout the novel? What did these stories add to your understanding of the book and of Iranian culture as a whole? Which stories were the most powerful?

6. Though The Blood of Flowers is set in a time and place that may be very foreign to most readers, it is a universal story about a girl reclaiming her life and coming into her own. In what ways is this a familiar story? In what ways does this story differ from your own experience or from other coming-of-age novels you have read?

7. The Blood of Flowers explores many different relationships in the narrator's life—with her mother, her father, her uncle, her friend, and her husband, to name a few—all bringing out different sides of the narrator. Which relationship did you find the most compelling? Which did you find the most perplexing?

8. What is the meaning of the final tale, and why do you think the author chose to end the novel with this one? Is this the future you see for the narrator?

9. What would you say rug-making represents to the narrator aside from monetary benefit? What does the art of rug-making represent in the story itself?
(Questions issued by publisher.)

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