Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Blood of Flowers

The Blood of Flowers by Anita Amirrezvani

A fictional story set in seventeenth century Iran describing a life as complicated as the protagonist’s passion – carpets. Not just any carpet, authentic hand-woven Persian carpets. What better era to concentrate on than that of Shah Abbas – the lover of Arts and Architecture. Shah Abbas turned what a tribal art and occupation into one of international fame. He set up carpet workshops around the country and selected the best designers and weavers to work in those carpets – compensating them well for their efforts. Thanks to Shah Abbas, the Persian carpets left Iran and adorned homes all around the world – and still do!

First there wasn’t and then there was. Before God, no one was.

The book begins with this line. And as you read the book, you see that every folk tale narrated in the book start with this one. I am assuming that this might be similar to the “Once upon a time” of English tale narrations. Even time, I turned a page and found the italicized writing waiting for me, I jumped with joy. I loved Anita’s way of inserting folk tales at appropriate places in the story. Reading this book, I am beginning to see how there are so many similarities between Indian culture and the Iranian culture. We have a set of folktales as well, fondly called “grandmother stories” because they are usually told by grandmothers in an attempt make little brats eat or sleep.

One more similarity that I found between olden day India and Iran was the dependency on stars and astrology. Astrology is still big in India… not sure if that’s the same case in present day Iran. Indians strongly believe that the stars control our destiny and by studying them, we would be able to predict the life of an individual. Coming from a family where astrology has been a ardently followed hobby, I find myself in two minds when it comes to my opinion on believing the stars. The rational side of me refuses to believe that something as distant as the stars can control the decisions that you make here on earth. But, even then I must accept that there are some incidences that provide compelling evidence that there in fact might be some connection…. Anyways, that’s not the point here. What I was trying to get here was the fact that Anita has beautifully brought out the beliefs and practices of ancient Iran woven intricately into the story of an anonymous protagonist.

Unlike European art, art in Asia is not artist centric. Very rarely do we find artists name on the art work. Artists are anonymous. I have noticed this in Indian art work. We talk about regional art – Madhubani prints, Tanjore paintings, etc…. very rarely do we talk about artists who created the wonderful arts. In most cases, the artists are poor women in rural regions who stitch, or weave throughout the day to make a few rupees to sustain their deprived lives. Little do they realize that the dealers, who buy their handwork from them for dirt cheap prices, later sell the same pieces for exorbitant prices. Now, initiatives are being taken to bring the artists in direct contact with the customers so they can get more money for their effort. I have always been interested in traditional Indian art work and have always resisted against buying from dealers. I was really excited when I realized that this book deals with the life of an anonymous poor carpet weaver and the difficulties that she has to go through in spite of being extremely talented in her art.

One thing about the book that thoroughly surprised me was the concept of sighehs or “temporary marriages”- more like a short term contract that can be renewed. I was surprised to read the terms in the book and then on researching further, I realized that this is still practiced in Iran. “Temporary marriages” is a term that I find very difficult to deal with and accept but isn’t that the beauty of international literature. You get to know so many things about different parts of the world that you might never visit. Some practices that resonate with the culture that you have been brought up in and some practices that are hugely discordant.

So, why the name “Blood of Flowers”, you might wonder. According to the author, the title comes from a poem called “Ode to a Garden Carpet” by “an unknown Sufi poet, circa 1500” and it portrays the garden carpet as a place of refuge that stimulates visions of the divine. In the poem come the words “Sometimes it seemed as if every thread in a carpet had been dipped in the Blood of Flowers”. This title is very apt for the novel. To me, it somehow portrays the pain and the sacrifices that go into making of an exceptional art piece.. Again, this takes me back to “The Thorn Birds” where the central theme was the story of the legendary “thorn bird” that spends its life looking for a thorn tree and then impales itself on the sharpest thorn. And while dying, it sings out and its song is better than any other song that the world has ever listened to. Somehow, when there is pain involved the resulting work is made spectacular.

I loved the book and I think it is a must read for anyone who enjoys reading in general and international literature in particular. I think this is a fantastic novel and it is Anita’s first book. I know she is working on another book right now and I can’t wait to read that when it comes out.

Some other reviewers who have read this book:

If you have read this book and reviewed it, do leave a comment with the link to the post and I’ll add you to this list!


softdrink said...

Great review! Thanks for linking to mine. :-) I need to remember to add the links to other reviews!!

Fyrefly said...

Sounds great... and I'm off to my wishlist again. Thanks for the review!

Dar said...

Hi Ramya, I remember you mentioning that you were reading this, I think on Book Blogs. It sounds like such a good novel-it's definitely gone on the list. Thanks for the great review.

Pratima said...

I liked the review...seems like a nice book! Adding it on to my list :)

Meera said...

Two things: Whenever i get to B&N or the lib, i first read your blog to get my list - so keep it goin'. We survive cos of you :-)
Secondly, how the hell do you do your research? Am glad you do it so i can just click. I know am lazy :))

Sathej said...

You have a nice blog here :) So full of books! Shall read at leisure and comment.

Ramya said...

@softdrink - thanks! i like this whole idea of linking the post to other's reviews.. readers can get a variety of opinions in just a few clicks!:)
@fyrefly - oohh..i know that wishlist! i havw a huge one sitting on my desk as well! i don't know if i will ever get through that list!
@dar - yep..this is the book that i mentioned.. you should read it..i am sure you'll like it!
@pratima - nice to see you here after quite a while! read it and let me know what you thought of it!
@meera - honestly, i don't do too much research. i have a few book blogs that i frequent regularly and they are such voracious readers.. get suggestions from their blogs!
@sathej - welcome to my blog!

Trish said...

What a great first line for the book!! I'm hooked just off of that. I just finished Persepolis and now my brain is on Iran. Thanks for the great review!

Ramya said...

@trish - persepolis!! that is on my list! i found a great list of iranian fiction and non fiction and hope to read atleast a few books from that list!