We all struggle to live a life of our choosing, but imagine what it must be like to be a female in a very male world, a world in which women cannot be seen much less heard, a world in which even the most talented must give themselves over to marriage and motherhood -- no questions asked. This is the premise behind this lush, luminous tale by first-time novelist Anita Amirrezvani that is due for publication next month.
Set in Iran in the 1620s, The Blood of Flowers is about one girl's painful journey from naive young peasant to hard-bitten business woman. When her father dies, the unnamed narrator is forced to flee to the city with her mother in tow. Here in the captivating capital of Isfahan, they are taken in as house servants by an uncle and his demanding wife. Their new life is riddled with broken promises and much hard work, but the saving grace is the narrator's special talent for carpet making, which is strengthened under her uncle's tutelage.
But being able to design and knot carpets is not enough to secure her future: only marriage to a wealthy man can do that. And if marriage is not an option, the next best thing, a temporary contract known as a sigheh, will have to do -- provided it is kept secret...
The Blood of Flowers is a sweeping, extravagant and sexy tale about life lived against the odds in another era and another culture. Amirrezvani very much brings this Cinderella-like story to life with gorgeous descriptions of the scenery and architecture, the bazaars and market stalls, the hand-knotted carpets and the factories in which they are made. But it is when she is describing food and the interiors of wealthy people's homes that she really comes into her own: the detail is, at times, mouth-watering to the point of making one feel hungry and desperate for an inky-black coffee.
Amirrezvani is also very good at moving the plot along at a rapid pace, helped in part by putting her narrator though incredible ups and heartrending downs, testing her will at every opportunity. And the characterisation is strong if somewhat stereotyped -- the wicked aunt, the kindly uncle, the poor mother.
My only quibble is that the narrator's sexual awakening -- a quite critical component of the storyline and reminiscent in many ways of Debbie Taylor's The Fourth Queen and M.R.Lovric's Carnevale -- goes on for so long that I became bored with it.
Ultimately, The Blood of Flowers is a delicious, entertaining fairy tale that captivated me for the two days I took to read it. It will especially appeal to anyone who appreciates great storytelling (the main storyline is interspersed with traditional Iranian and Islamic tales) and wonderfully evocative writing. And I rather suspect it will be on the best-seller list before we know it!