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.
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.
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.
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