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The Blood of Flowers    by Anita Amirrezvani order for
Blood of Flowers
by Anita Amirrezvani
Order:  USA  Can
Little, Brown & Co., 2007 (2007)
Hardcover, CD

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

In a remote village in seventeenth century Persia, a fourteen-year old girl lives happily with her parents, Maheen and Isma'il, surrounded by a supportive extended family, and looking forward to marriage that year. Then tragedy strikes, sending mother and daughter to seek refuge with Isma'il's wealthy half-brother Gostaham in Isfahan. Though Maheen is known for her honeyed storytelling, it's her daughter who tells us what happened and that 'I would never have imagined that I could lie and, worse yet, not tell the whole truth; that I could betray someone I loved and abandon someone who cared for me, although not enough; that I could strike out against my own kin; and that I would nearly kill the person who loved me most.'

When Maheen and the narrator arrive in Isfahan, they're awed by the size of the capital that was once considered half the world. Gostaham is a skilled carpet maker whose workshop is in the palace of the great Shah Abbas himself. He has a particular talent for color selection and design. He welcomes them as family but his grasping wife Gordiyeh is less kind, treating them as servants and working them hard. Through Gordiyeh, her niece meets and befriends Naheed, a spoiled girl from a wealthy family. Naheed teaches her to write and uses their friendship as a smokescreen for meetings with a handsome young polo rider, of whom her family is sure to disapprove. Our heroine, who's already a skilled knotter of rugs and has a passion for the art, learns much from her uncle about color selection and about overall design integrity.

After getting in trouble for lying for Naheed and also for an impulsive act, the young woman is pressed hard by her aunt to accept a sighegh, a three-month renewable marriage contract with wealthy horse breeder Fereydoon. At the time, neither she nor her mother realize how such arrangements are looked upon and what she has given up by yielding to her aunt's wishes. She's a strong-willed young woman, who must learn to temper her own drive and passion with the dictates of reality and what it takes to survive poverty in a hard world. Though she enjoys sexual pleasure with Fereydoon and works out how to keep his interest, she's eventually faced with how little he values her. She makes a decision with frightening repercussions for herself and her mother.

Fascinating details on the art of carpet making are weaved through the novel - what goes into the design, how a choice of colors should be made, and the sheer time and effort required in knotting a rug with nimble fingers. The art of storytelling is also interwoven in the form of seven tales (five adapted from traditional stories) that enrich and brighten the main pattern of the storyline. I enjoyed The Blood of Flowers very much for its Iranian background, for its young heroine's joy in art, and for the manner in which she learns that she can take charge of her own life and tell her own tale.

Audiobook Review by Barbara Lingens:

Beautifully read by Shohreh Aghdashloo, The Blood of Flowers is a richly imagined look at the life of women in seventeenth-century Persia. Woven into the story are several folktales, which are probably set off typographically in the text version. In the auditory version it would be more effective if they were marked somehow, perhaps with the kind of music that is used at the end of each CD. As it is, there is some confusion as to what is tale and what is story until the listener figures out that sequences beginning with 'first there wasn't and then there was' are folktales.

The discussion with the author at the end is most interesting. Author Amirrezvani is very forthright with her responses, and I especially appreciated her explanation of why the narrator is not named and what is in store for her future. Though, after listening to the melodious reading of the text (Aghdashloo doesn't have so much of an accent as an interesting pronunciation), it was surprising how flat her questions to the author sounded. Overall, this is an audio experience to enjoy in company because there is much to think about and discuss.

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