BookBrowse Reviews The Rug Merchant by Meg Mullins

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The Rug Merchant

by Meg Mullins

The Rug Merchant by Meg Mullins X
The Rug Merchant by Meg Mullins
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  • First Published:
    Mar 2006, 272 pages

    Paperback:
    Jun 2007, 272 pages

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A sparkling debut novel about an unlikely romance between an Iranian immigrant and an American college student. Novel

From the book jacket: Isolated and far from his native Iran, Ushman Khan has worked hard to build a wealthy, reliable clientele for his wares: exquisite hand-woven rugs from his home city of Tabriz. With perfect rectitude, he caters to clients like New York’s Upper East Side grand dame Mrs. Roberts, who plies him for stories about his exotic origins and culture to feed her own imagination. But like many immigrants, he’s living only half a life. He dreams of the day his beloved wife, Farak, will be able to join him in New York and complete his vision of the American dream. But when she tells him that she is leaving him for another man, Ushman is shattered. He begins to wander aimlessly through the terminals of JFK Airport, imagining a now-impossible reunion with Farak.

Unexpectedly, he meets Stella, a Barnard College student who has just bade farewell to her parents en route for an Italian vacation. After Stella, isolated in her own way, finds herself at Ushman’s Manhattan store, they embark on an improbable and powerful romance. Together this American girl from the Deep South and the Iranian aesthete form a tender bond that awakens them both to the possibility of joy in a world full of tragedy.

Comment:  At first glance a romance between an Iranian immigrant and an American college student almost half his age might lead the reader to expect shades of Lolita  - but that is far from the case.   What Mullins offers in her low key first novel is a lovely, melancholy story about shaking free from disappointment and finding connection and acceptance in whatever form they appear.

When asked how she was able to capture the essence of Ushman's character so well Mullins replies, "The beauty of humanity is that none of us is so very different at our core. As I was writing about Ushman, I never felt he was unlike me. I certainly have a great respect for the vast differences in our cultures and our backgrounds, even our genders, but I loved discovering similarities, too. Love and pain, loneliness and desire are universal experiences and we are all linked by them. Stories that I admire are usually those that remind me of the power of empathy, the natural human ability to feel deep emotion for those outside of ourselves."

She says she chose to set the book pre-9/11 (in the winter of 1999 to be exact) "simply so that there would not be a greater temptation to make assumptions about an entire people or culture based on one man's story."

This review was originally published in The BookBrowse Review in April 2006, and has been updated for the June 2007 edition. Click here to go to this issue.

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