The Blood of Flowers

February 15, 2008

By Anita Amirrezvani     

Publisher: Headline Review 

ISBN: 978-0755334193 

 Every once in a while, a book comes along that completely reinvigorates a genre and shakes up the often moribund world of English literary fiction. Sad thing is that in recent years, these books have often been translations – Javier Cercas’s Soldiers of Salamis, Peter Hoeg’s Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow, Orhan Pamuk’s Snow. Although author Anita Amirrezvani was born in Tehran, she now resides in the US and spent nine years developing and writing The Blood of Flowers. Well, I’ve always been skeptical of writers who say this (unless of course they’re in prison and writing on toilet paper), but in Amirrezvani’s case, it’s nine years well-spent.  The Blood of Flowers is an extraordinary book. It flummoxes the reader from the very first pages and never lets up, taking you on an extraordinary magical journey into the heart of 17th century Isfahan. So it is kind of appropriate then, that carpets are central to the narrative of the book. The narrator is a nameless (in the old tradition of Persian folk-tales) thirteen year old girl who excels at carpet-making, not the sort of skill required for a woman in 17th century Persia. Following the death of her beloved father (constructed by the author in heart-breaking detail), our heroine and her mother trek to the glorious city of Isfahan to live with a long-lost uncle, Gostaham, who just happens to be an expert carpet-maker in the service of the Shah. Naturally his wife is an evil shrew who hates the newcomers and does everything she can to make their lives miserable. Along the way, the young girl is apprenticed to her uncle (unofficially), makes a great carpet for the shah’s favourite courtesan, gets forced into a sigheh (temporary marriage) and finally discovers her true self. Intersperced between the plot are old Persian tales, some traditional, others made up by the author. They don’t really work, except to distract the reader. It is to the authors credit that she takes clichéd situations (for the book does abound with clichés and improbabilities) and makes them seem fresh and exciting. At its core, it is a simple coming-of-age tale, but, like Voltaire’s Candide, the main character has such a wondrous take on the world that it leaves the reader alive to the possibilities of recreating their own lives. If that isn’t the purpose of great art, then I don’t know what is. Amirezvani is at her best in the descriptive passages of the book. She brings alive the milieu of Isfahan, its sights and smells, in vivid splashes of writing that make the reader feel as if they too, are flitting between the stalls of the Naqsh-e Jahan, the “Image of the World”, the great Isfahan square, with its silks, perfumes and spices from all around the world.



One Response to “The Blood of Flowers”

  1. Kissy Haynes Sumaylo Says:

    I bought the book when I was in Manila for a short visit.On a limited budget, it was difficult to choose from an endless array of authors and titles, especially from new authors. What drew my attention was the mystery exuded by the book cover, and as I pored through the pages, I read parts of the prologue and the first chapter. I instantly knew this is a book i can read with intensity. Having an interest in religious history and women’s rights, a young woman’s struggle and ‘triumph’ in 17th century is inspiring – something that rings through in our present day struggle for rights and recognition. Definitely a great read and worth rereading.

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