Tuesday, April 13, 2010

I is for...

Isfahan / Iran, as depicted in The Blood of Flowers by Anita Amirrezvani. (Response to Historical Tapestry's Alphabet Challenge.)

The Blood of Flowers tells the story of a young woman, a gifted carpet knotter from a rural village, who moves to the city with her mother after her father's death. Fascinated by her uncle's expansive carpet workshop, she convinces him to teach her the secrets of creating the elaborate works of art that grace the Shah's floors. Even as she learns how to make patterns and choose colors, however, she is maneuvered into a less than fortuitous not-quite-marriage and is manipulated by her best friend. In the end, she will have to learn to rely on herself and to make wise decisions, rather than fall back on the support of her uncle or patience of her mother.

There were many elements that really appealed to me in Amirrezvani's book. For one, the weaving of carpets, or, rather, knotting--I learned so much about how these impressive pieces are created, and the art and labor that goes into each. For another, this area of Persia (now Iran) in the seventheenth century was a really fascinating place, one that bears little resemblence to the way the West often projects and perceives the region today. Iranian by birth, the author uses her experiences of artisans in the Middle East to give life and color to the descriptions in her book.

The story is told in first person, which is usually not my preference. However, Amirrizvani had a fascinating and poignant reason for her choice. The narrator and main character is never named, paying homage to the many rugs with no signature or mark indicating their creator. In this way, the book becomes about all craftswomen.

Amirrezvani also weaves traditional Persian folktales and folktales imitating that style throughout the novel. These stories within the story pay tribute to the importance of storytelling in Persian culture and, in fact, all cultures, while shedding light on the plot for the characters and for the reader. The choice was a beautiful touch by the author.

This book manages to be both beautiful and a page-turner. I have to admit that the one of the book's few flaws was that I often found it too stressful--kudos to the author for creating a character I care about, but our young herione makes so many downright stupid choices that it becomes a bit painful to read. Perhaps, also, a touch constrained--yes, teenaged girls make dumb choices. But do they truly make that many of the same kind, in a row? It's always possible that the answer is yes and I've simply forgotten, in the few years since leaving my adolescence.

And, for my part, though I admire where the author took the story, was a bit disappointed that it didn't take a different turn. For one, it felt a bit abrupt and rushed, trying to cram everything into the final pages, as though perhaps ending sooner and having a five-year-later epilogue would have been more complimentary to the style of the rest of the narration. The emergence of the intelligent, independent woman at the end of the story was a triumph on one hand, but I will leave it to other readers to decide if the sacrifices she makes are greater than is let on.
Regardless, a lovely story, told lovingly, about a time and place often forgotten. Worth a read.
Also--check out the Leaky Bookshelf Giveaway for a chance to snag a previously reviewed "Alphabet Book."


Ms. Lucy said...

This sounds excellent- Thanks:)

Lua said...

I love stories told in first person! I feel like I’m closer to the character, it just feels more intimate. Thanks for the great review Rowenna, sounds like a wonderful book :)

Ax said...

I feel like I need to start reading better books. :-S All trashy fantasy, horror, romance, and the occasional nonfiction on drug and human trafficking here. Keep up the high culture for the rest of us please! Maybe some will rub off. :)

Carrie C said...

Rowenna, I think we must have similar reading taste! This sounded really fascinating until I read your mention of the heroine's incomprehensible decisions. That's usually a deal-breaker for me but this sounds intriguing enough to pick up anyways.

Rowenna said...

Glad I may have added to your lists of "Read Sometime," Lucy and Lua!

Ax--I think you'd like this one. It's got its share of "literary" qualities but also keeps the pace up for the most part--and the strong female protagonist is a great character.

Carrie--I agree that this one is worth a read, and I'd love to hear what you thought about the character's choices. Maybe I was just being way too rational when I was reading and forgot how teenagers go about making choices :)

Connie said...

A wonderful book about the region is called the Alphabet of Dreams. It's a young adult book and the writing is superb.

Marg said...

I really liked this book when I read it a few years ago. I am glad to see someone else reading it even if it didn't work completely for you!