The Blood of Flowers by Anita Amirrezvani
When her father dies, a girl and her mother’s futures are forever altered. As a 14-year-old living in a 17th-century Persian village, she expected to be contentedly married, looking forward to starting her own family, not unlike her best friend who is already heavy with pregnancy. But mother and daughter suddenly find themselves alone, and their only option is to seek the protection of her late father’s relatives in the faraway city of Isfahan. There they enter the lavish home of a wealthy (half-)uncle; with nothing, they quickly become servants. Gostaham, an artisan rug-maker to the Shah, is not an unkind man, but he has little control over his manipulative wife Gordiyeh who proves to be less than welcoming.
Without sons, Gostaham has no heir to his art, but his newly appeared niece shows both supreme talent and unwavering dedication to learn. She’s also strong-willed, often inspiring Gordiyeh’s wrath. Carpet-making may be her only path to independence, but long before she has gained enough skills, she is sold into a temporary marriage to a wealthy man. After the initial shock of the heartless union, she experiences the fleeting value of pleasure, although she realizes she is little more than a disposable toy. More than ever, she knows she must find a way to free herself and her mother from servitude: she must learn to be “bold … but no longer brash.” Fighting seemingly endless misfortunes (my single quibble might be that ‘enough already!’ could have come far sooner), her art – and friends who are far more worthy than family – will help set her free.
While Anita Amirrezvani‘s debut novel flows smoothly on the page, only stuck in the ears does it transform into a mellifluous treasury, narrated with depth and resonance by the Iranian-born, Oscar-nominated actress Shohreh Aghdashloo. Amirrezvani prefaces each of her seven chapters with a magical tale – so magnificently, distinctly voiced by Aghdashloo – that offers cultural, even mystical enhancement to the narrative of her 17th-century heroine.
In a fascinating interview (more reason to choose aural!) at the end of Aghdashloo’s narration, Amirrezvani explains that five of the seven tales are traditional Persian stories, while the first and last she created herself. She points out, too, how the opening tale belongs to the mother, the final to the daughter, just in case you missed that significance. She also definitively explains (although you probably guessed from the story) why she never names the daughter. So many reasons to hit ‘play’ already … make that online leap: search, download, stick in the ears, and escape!