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Excerpt from The Gardens of Consolation by Parisa Reza, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Gardens of Consolation

by Parisa Reza

The Gardens of Consolation by Parisa Reza X
The Gardens of Consolation by Parisa Reza
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    Dec 2016, 208 pages


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Kim Kovacs
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The Gardens of Consolation

To the east, bare earth, as far as the eye can see. To the west, hills, in places crumpled as a camel's hide, in others smooth as a woman's breast. Then on the horizon, mountains. And a road, traced along the length of the desert, the length of the mountains, from Isfahan to Tehran. Perhaps this road sets off from further away, from somewhere in the south of Iran. Perhaps it begins beside the sea, at Bouchehr. But for Talla, the world does not reach beyond Isfahan and Tehran. Tehran and Isfahan are the most extreme limits she has heard mentioned, the last outposts before oblivion. Beyond that would be home to djinns and peris, will-o'-the-wisps and ogres. Not that this means she can situate the two cities in relation to each other, or even attribute them with any form or substance. They are merely necessary words to shape the world. Tehran, Isfahan, and, between the two, Kashan. And Mecca, the counterweight to the pagan world, holding within its walls the antidote to all the vice and suffering of man, man who is constantly led astray by bewitching creatures lurking in the bowels of the earth. There should be a bridge connecting her world to Mecca, which she pictures suspended in space, hovering over everything. And little more than that.

Talla is traveling this road, riding a donkey, and her husband Sardar walks beside her. No other living creature travels with them. Alone like this, Sardar is afraid of bandits, and Talla of ogres. But they are carried by their faith, for the void contains only God, and the line traced by this road, only man's endless footfalls.

In this year 1299 of the Iranian calendar, Talla is twelve. Three days earlier she left her village, Ghamsar, for the first time.

According to its inhabitants, Ghamsar is a lost corner of paradise fallen from heaven. Ghamsar is ringed by mountains and home to a handful of families whose artistry and workmanship are feted all over the East. For this is where the purest, most fragrant rosewater is made. The rosewater used to perfume Mecca itself.

In Ghamsar, at the gates of hell and the source of paradise, blooms Mohamed's flower; it is here, in this village, to the west of the scorching desert of the Iranian plateau, that the Persian rose grows.

It is no coincidence that paradise was born in the desert. No creature surrounded by greenery could have imagined its glories. When locals say Ghamsar is a paradise, they recognize it as an improbable object of desire: a garden of flowers and fruit.

Here, the red flower blooms among vines, amid trees of hazelnuts, almonds, cherries, peaches . . . Here, the river finds its source in the mountains, runs through the village, irrigates the plantations, and never runs dry. Here, people can bathe their whole bodies in limpid pools, or tirelessly drink the pure water as it springs from the ground and flows in peaceful rivulets. At Ghamsar the wind does not raise dust but spreads the smell of roses, a gift from God, the flower of Mohamed. Here, nightingales sing.

In Ghamsar, the art of making rosewater is passed from one generation to the next by a scant hundred men and women. At the end of every spring, at dawn, before the sun's first rays have spoiled the flowers' fragrance, they pick hundreds of pounds of petals and make their precious essence in sufficient quality and quantity to satisfy and honor Iran, as well as Arabia and India, to the west and east. They know that this essence is prized far away, far, far away. But for most of them, the world actually ends twenty miles to the east, in Kashan. In rose season a caravan laden with rosewater travels there with great ceremony. The rest of the year the men go there regularly to sell fruit and vegetables, their surplus produce, and to buy the simplest necessities: sugar, tea, salt, pepper, and tobacco. Occasionally, a few venture as far as Tehran or Isfahan; some never return, others reappear one day like a mirage, exhausted by their travels.

Excerpted from The Gardens of Consolation by Parisa Reza. Copyright © 2016 by Parisa Reza. Excerpted by permission of Europa Editions. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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