With the publication of Khalid
The Thousand Splendid Suns and Lisa Sees
The Snow Flower and Secret Fan)
Peony in Love, it might be easy to overlook
a hidden gem in Amita Amirrezvanis new novel,
The Blood of Flowers. I began the book early in
the morning and could not come up for air until I
had finished all 384 pages. Part Arabian nights
fairytale, part historical fiction, and part
feminist treatise, this novel combines different
motifs in a delightful and captivating manner.
Written in plain, earthy, yet colorful prose,
interspersed with Persian folktales, Amirrzvani's
strengths come from her ability to make the sounds,
smells, and architecture of this ancient Persian
world come alive. My only complaint was that I found
myself impatient with the interspersed scattering of
the folktales; I longed to return to the ongoing
suspense of the narrative. However, this annoyance
was minor compared to the richly colored world of
carpet making and women's lives so aptly expressed.
In the story, the young female protagonist is forced at one point to submit to a temporary marriage known as "sigheh", a practice that still exists in Iran today (see below). As a woman, being able to design and knot carpets does not ensure a stable economic future, so she must sublimate her needs for her family and her own happiness. Her role is not dissimilar to that of subservient women who are treated as second-class citizens in their respective countries today.
Arrezvani moves the story forward at a rapid pace by putting the narrator through a series of trials and tribulations that keep the reader transfixed. The book's universal themes of tragedy and perseverance, coupled with the everyday stories of Iranian womens lives in the bazaars, houses, and hamans make for a sparkling treasure.
Reviewed by Lani, a BookBrowse member since January 2006.
The heroine of The Blood of Flowers ends up in a temporary marriage called a sigheh. Like many aspects of Islam the sigheh is not only controversial but open to interpretation. The practice, which is still alive and well in many parts of the Muslim world, dates back before Islam to Arab tribes, particularly to those involved in long distance trade. Sigheh allows a man and woman to marry for a temporary period. While a man is limited to four permanent wives there are no limits on the number of temporary wives he can have.
The children born of a sigheh marriage are considered legitimate (assuming the father acknowledges their existence) and those who promote it say that it combats immorality. In modern-day Iran, sigheh is promoted as a legal alternative (BBC & NY Times) to young couples 'living in sin', but the reality (as can be seen in The Dancing Girls of Lahore) is that it is usually a way to legitimize prostitution with sigheh 'marriages' lasting as little as one hour.
About the Author
Anita Amirrezvani was born in Tehran, Iran, and raised in San Francisco. For ten years, she was a dance critic for newspapers in the Bay Area. She is a student in the MFA program in fiction at San Francisco State University. Her first novel, Blood of Flowers, took nine years to create. She says:
"Iran and Iranians have become increasingly mysterious to Westerners ever since the United States severed relations with the country nearly thirty years ago. When I tell people about an ordinary activity like smoking apple-flavored tobacco in a cafe in Isfahan, I get a flurry of bewildered questions about everything from food to the status of women. In my novel, I posit that seventeenth-century women would have been quite strong in their own spheres, meaning the home, in social centers like the bathhouse, in raising children, in supervising house-related staff and purchases, and in craft-related work performed at home. I think these are quite reasonable assumptions. When it comes to Iranian women today, it would be a gross misconception to think of them as shrinking violets. Iranian women represent 60 percent of the students enrolled in universities, and in recent years, have been quite organized in fighting for their rights. One of these women, of course, is Shirin Ebadi, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003 for her human rights work and the first Muslim woman to be so honored." .... more.
This review was originally published in July 2007, and has been updated for the May 2008 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.
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