Click here to read reviewer Luan Gaines' take on The Blood of Flowers.
The Blood of Flowers is a wonderfully rich tapestry of characters and events set in seventeenth-century Iran, a folk tale that is grand in its scale and majesty. Tapestry? Perhaps carpet or rug would be more apt, since the heroine, who is the novel’s unnamed narrator, weaves rugs in a rags-to-riches sort of story as her means to succeed in life despite the very heavens being seemingly against her. It’s also about the sheer wonder of words, the beauty of a well-told tale, and the joys and misfortunes that face the narrator and her mother when they are forced to fend for themselves after the untimely death of the narrator’s father.
Born a female into the man’s world of Iran in the seventeenth century: Strike one against you. Cursed by the heavens in the form of a comet, interpreted to mean your marital possibilities “will be full of passion and strife”: Strike two against you. Your father, the source of income for your family, dies before a dowry can be arranged, making the chances you’ll get married, let alone to someone of your choosing, very slim: Strike three. All of this is just the beginning of the narrator’s remarkable travails and adventures.
On the plus side, she possesses the seed of a growing talent to weave rugs and a strong-willed mother who does a type of weaving of her own, with words. The folk tales she tells spellbind her listeners and act as a framework for the novel, which itself is a complex folk tale. The elaborately detailed rugs of Iran are like folk tales themselves, a utilitarian art form that often depict scenes from a myth, legendary lovers, or heroes and heroines made famous largely through the oral tradition of telling stories.
There is little choice left for the narrator and her mother than to throw themselves on the mercies of their nearest living relative, the teenager’s Uncle Gostaham, in the then-capital of Isfahan. He is a wealthy designer of carpets for the Shah’s court, and his knowledge and expertise are a fertile source of knowledge that helps the narrator’s budding talent grow. Though designing carpets is man’s work, her uncle recognizes both her talent and desire and lets her assist him with some of his projects.
The move to Isfahan, however, is no escape from the bad luck that the comet has plagued the narrator and her mother with. Gordiyeh, Gostaham’s wife, treats the two women like they are her servants, working them in the kitchen and begrudging them any familial kindness. To her they are a burden, two more mouths to feed, despite the great wealth of the household. When Fereydoon, the wealthy son of a man who breeds horses, inadvertently sees the narrator one day without her veil and desires to have a three-month sigheh with her (an arranged marriage lasting for a specified period), Gordiyeh pressures the narrator into agreeing to the deal. In essence, she’s forced into selling her most valuable commodity, her virginity. Though doing so will lower her in her society’s eyes, she has little choice but to agree.
What’s worse than selling your virginity? Fereydoon has no intention of ever making the narrator his permanent wife. Even if he wanted to, doing so would be going against his father’s wishes and might result in his being disinherited. The woman Fereydoon chooses to marry is the narrator’s best friend, Naheed. Not discovering this until the day after the sigheh is extended for another three months and not wanting to risk their friendship, the narrator does not tell Naheed about her arrangement with Fereydoon.
When Naheed learns about the deal on her own through her servants, she is furious. She and her family cancel deals for carpets they’d made with Gordiham. This increases the tensions in the household even further, enraging Gordiyeh. Not wanting to offend Naheed more, the narrator refuses to extending the sigheh with Fereydoon for a third three months. Gordiyeh has had enough and convinces her husband to kick the two out of their house, forcing them to fend for themselves.
The Blood of Flowers is an incredible book sure to garner author Anita Amirrizvani much fame and success. She researched it and worked on writing it for nine years, and her hard work shows in the literary equivalent to a beautiful Iranian rug which she’s “woven” in her debut novel. If you like the writing of Khaled Hosseini, like The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns (both set in Afghanistan), or other books set in Iran, such as The Rug Merchant by Meg Mullins and Reading Lolita in Tehran, by Azar Mafidi, you’re sure to also love reading The Blood of Flowers.
I highly recommend it. It’s a good thing to get perspectives of people from the Middle East other than the ones so often in the news - that they are members of some terrorist group or other, intent on destroying Western civilization. Iran is an important center of culture, art, writing, and knowledge of all types. Whenever bridges can be built between different peoples and cultures, we all benefit. Whether you’re from a “Red” or “Blue” state doesn’t matter - if you enjoy fine literature, you can’t go wrong with The Blood of Flowers.