Hello, everyone! Sorry it’s been such a long time since I last posted on this blog. My sophomore year of college has been sucking up all my energy and I’m directing my first real film! You can check out the film at my Indiegogo page here and even donate if you want! But enough of all that shameless plugging! I’ve been re-reading a lot of my favorite books lately and I’ve just finished Anita Amirrezvani’s The Blood of Flowers (for like the 6th time). This book is phenomenal, written in gorgeous prose, featuring a truly dynamic protagonist, and set in a fascinating historical period. But what I love most about this book is how it grows with the reader and their experiences. When I first read TBOF, I was probably about eleven or twelve, and I didn’t understand the character’s often frustrating life choices. Now, as an adult (or as much of an adult as a 19 year old can be) I find myself sympathizing with the main character a lot more. With that in mind, let’s get started!
Synopsis: The protagonist, who the author left unnamed to represent the anonymous artisans of Iran, lives contently as a young carpet maker in a small village in Iran. I’ll call the protagonist Joonam because that’s what her mother calls her; it’s an affectionate term meaning something similar to “honey” or “beloved.” After a comet streaks across the Iranian skies, considered a terrible omen by Joonam’s fellow villagers, her peaceful life falls apart. Her father suffers a fatal stroke and leaves Joonam and her mother impoverished, forcing them to travel to the glorious city of Isfahan to seek refuge with her father’s half brother, Gostaham and his cruel and greedy wife Gordiyeh.
At first Joonam’s life improves in the city; she studies carpet-making under her uncle Gostaham, who is a master colorer at the Shah’s carpet workshop, and befriends her wealthy neighbor Naheed. But soon Joonam’s reckless decisions and lack of tact land her in horrible trouble. In order to take control of her life, she must learn to stop relying on others, and to let her art speak for her.
My take: Amirrezvani weaves her tail as lushly as Joonam crafts her carpets. She has a difficult task ahead of her, setting her tale in a rather obscure time period in a unfamiliar country (at least to some American readers), but instead of describing the world of 17th century Isfahan with pages and pages of info-dump, she paints with imagery precise as a photograph. Instead of leading us by the hand into the city of Isfahan, she throws us headfirst into its wonder:
Ahead of us, Isfahan stretched out in all directions, and the sight of its thousands of houses, gardens, mosques, bazaars, schools, caravanserais, kebabis, and teahouses filled us with awe. At the end of the bridge lay a long tree-lined avenue that traversed the whole city, ending in the square that Shah Abbas had built, which was so renowned that every child knew it as the Image of the World. My eye was caught by the square’s Friday mosque, whose vast blue dome glowed peacefully in the morning light. Looking around, I saw another azure dome, and yet another, and then dozens more brightening the saffron-colored terrain, and it seemed to me that Isfahan beckoned like a field of turquoise set in gold.
Amirrezvani gives such color and beauty to her prose. She constructs every sentence like a necklace filled with precious stones that makes it almost impossible for you to stop reading, sucked in as you are by her gorgeous vocabulary. Here she describes her mother:
“My mother had comforted me with tales ever since I was small. Sometimes they helped me peel a problem like an onion, or gave me ideas about what to do; other times, they calmed me so much that I would fall into a soothing sleep. My father used to say that her tales were better than the best medicine. Sighing, I burrowed into my mother’s body like a child, knowing that the sound of her voice would be a balm on my heart.”
I’m not one to exaggerate for the sake of making my point, but I really, really, REALLY adore this women’s writing style. I know that heavy description is not everyone’s cup of tea, and it’s not always mine either (I’m looking at YOU Charles Dickens), but when I read Amirrezvani’s words, I am thoroughly transported to her world. If a writer can make me feel like I’m seeing her world through her eyes, then I’ll read just about anything she writes.
But Amirrezvani doesn’t rest on the quality of her prose, she further elevates her novel by sprinkling in classic Persian fairy tales throughout the tale. If you’ve read my blog before then you know that I love love love fairy tales, so when I’m reading Amirrezvani’s book I’m like a kid in a candy store. The tales serve a few basic functions in the novel: 1) they foreshadow events in Joonam’s life 2) they give context to the events in Joonam’s life and help her to understand them and 3) they provide much needed fantasy in a story that would otherwise get too bogged down in darkness. In her author’s note, Amirrezvani said that she adapted classic tales, built off them, or made her own stories, which created a good variety. My favorite tale is probably the tale of the girl who becomes lost at sea, but there are enough stories that you can pick and choose which ones you like, and even skip over the ones you don’t if you re-read it. The added stories aren’t vital to the main plot, they serve more as contextual interludes, but they are so rich in their own right that I don’t see why any reader wouldn’t enjoy them.
The quality of Amirrezvani’s prose is evident, but the part of her novel that I have struggled with, and eventually grown to love, is her main character. I have never liked books that I thought piled on the melodrama and in a way, one of the faults of TBOF is its excessive melodrama. Instead of an arc of ups and downs, Joonam mostly experiences blow after blow in her life. Her father dies, she lives with a demanding step-aunt, her friend uses her for selfish ends, she’s forced to make a dishonorable marriage, and so on and so forth. It all gets very depressing and you almost wanna close the book so you don’t have to read any more suffering.
But what saves this book for me is the fact that a lot of this misery is a direct result of Joonam’s actions. In the beginning of the book she is impetuous and arrogant, yet by the end of the book she learns responsibility and humility. Even though I find Joonam’s mistakes to be frustrating and at times difficult to read (I can’t tell you how many times I’ve skipped over a certain carpet ripping scene), I appreciate how well Amirrezvani has created her character. Humans are reckless and stupid and short-sighted and over confident. Amirrezvani manages to capture all of these qualities while still making her protagonist sympathetic and someone we want to root for. So if you’re like me and you get second-hand embarrassment from the failure of fictional characters, you might find some of these scenes difficult to read. Ultimately, however, I hope you’ll read through to the end to experience the satisfaction of Joonam’s evolution.
Final Consensus: The Blood of Flowers is a gorgeously written book with delicate, painterly description. Although the plot can be melodramatic, and the protagonist frustrating to read, the book is a page-turner and provides a beautiful, engrossing read.