Anita Amirrezvani,
The Blood of Flowers
(Little-Brown, 2007)

In these days when name brand authors crank out a book or two per year, it's kind of unusual to read about a debut novelist who took nine years to write her book. This is the story of Anita Awmirrezvani and The Blood of Flowers, though. She put in almost a decade of research and writing to produce this book.

And what did she come up with at the end of that time? A book about life in 17th-century Iran, a world shrouded in mystery and oddness for most of us, a world we know only by cliche. The Blood of Flowers rips those cliches apart, showing us a vibrant, real world that, even though the action takes place 400 years ago, is as fresh and contemporary as a Target superstore. Amirrezvani's research allowed her to internalize this world so that it never seems to have been written from study; no, her genius with selective detail leads us to feel that we are reading about observed and lived experience. It's quite a feat.

The plot concerns the narrator, who is never named, a 14-year-old girl on the verge of marriage, as the customs of her country dictate. She never questions that custom and is ready to take the step when her father's tragic death upends everything. With him dies the possibility of her dowry, so that she has now become unmarriageable. The narrator and her mother are forced to move into the city, where they live almost as servants in the home of her rich uncle, a designer and maker of rugs.

The narrator talks him into teaching her the art, even though as a woman she will not be able to practice it fully. The book tells the story of her attempts to better her life, which leads her to enter into a signeh, which is a temporary marriage by contract, three months with an option for more time. The story of her search for a better life makes up the action of the novel.

So, did the nine years of work pay off? Absolutely. The Blood of Flowers takes you into a world you cannot imagine and tells a fabulous story that is natural to that world. You'll think about this one long after finishing it.

review by
Michael Scott Cain

29 September 2007

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