This week Historical Tapestry announced the start of a new challenge, the Alphabet in Historical Fiction. When I was trying to decide what I was going to post about for the letter A, I had a few options, but as soon as I realised that this book qualified, I knew this was it!
I read and really, really enjoyed this book a couple of years ago, and I know that there were quite a few other historical fiction readers around who also enjoyed it around that time, but it has been a while since I noticed this book being featured on any one's blog. It was such a good read that I just had to highlight it again. I did have a look to see if there was any news of a new book from this author, but I couldn't see anything.
This review has never been posted on my blog, although it was originally posted at Historical Tapestry in September 2007.
In Persia, in the seventeenth century, a young woman is forced to leave behind the life she knows and move to a new city. Her father's unexpected death has upended everything - her expectation of marriage, her plans for the future - and cast her and her mother upon the mercy of relatives in the fabled city of Isfahan.
Her uncle is a wealthy designer of carpets for the Shah's court, and the young woman is instantly drawn to his workshop. She takes in everything - the dyes, the yarns, the meanings of the thousand ancient patters - and quickly begins designing carpets herself. This is men's work, but her uncle recognizes both her passion and her talent and allows her secretly to cross that line.
But then a single disastrous, headstrong act threatens her very existence and casts her and her mother into an even more desperate situation. She is forced into an untenable form of marriage, a marriage contract renewable monthly, for a fee, to a wealthy businessman. Caught between forces she can barely comprehend, she knows only that she must act on her own, risking everything, or face a life lived at the whim of others.
The world of medieval Persia comes alive in this luminous novel, from its dazzling architecture to its bustling markets with their baskets of spices and breathtaking turquoise-and-gold rugs. With spellbinding Persian tales and prose as radiant as the city of Isfahan, The Blood of Flowers is the remarkable adventure of one woman choosing a life - against all odds - on the strength of her own hands, mind and will.
Sometimes it is a real breath of fresh air to read about an unusual time and place, especially when the story is also well written and interesting! The setting for this book in 17th century Persia, during the time of Shah Abbas, and features a young girl who is trying to make her way into the male dominated world of carpet making.
The author was very skilled at weaving together both the story of the girl, but also details about the techniques used in the designing of carpets, in the selection of the colours to make the carpets, and the precision required by the carpet knotters. There are also several old Persian tales that have been interwoven into the narrative, used to illustrate and to guide our young heroine.
When one of the town elders brings back the almanac for the year, the small country town is interested to see what is destined for their lives - for marriages, births, the harvest etc. For one young girl in particular she is interested to hear what is going to come as she is now of a marriageable age. This year is an unusual one though. There has been a comet in the night sky, and everyone knows that that means bad luck. For the small but happy family, that ominous sign comes to eventuality when her father dies, leaving her and her mother to fend for themselves. After running out of resources, including those that were meant to be her dowry, the two head to the big city to request assistance from the brother of the husband and father.
Once in the city, the pair become basically house servants, but the young girl gets to visit the great carpet market making workshop owned by the Shah, which is run by her uncle, and gradually her uncle begins to teach her many of the secrets of the process, including design, colour selection and knotting with the most luxurious of threads.
After being caught acting rashly more than once, the young girl is contracted with a sigheh - a renewable marriage contract, that everyone involved in has agreed to keep this secret. The end result of this is given that there is now no dowry left, the girl is being forced to give away the only thing she has left of any value - her virginity. It takes a long time for our heroine to get used to the ways of her husband and to learn the secret of wifely enjoyment, and there are several times throughout the story that her mother is worried that the sigheh will not be renewed, which means that the contracted price won't be paid. It is quite an interesting contrast. By day the girl is a servant, subject to her aunt's somewhat nasty treatment, using every spare minute she has to learn to make carpets. By night, she is a wife, albeit subject to her husband's whims.
Life then offers a choice - to continue as things are, or to take a chance at having a different and more independent life. There are many lessons to be learned, and many of them are painful. There are times when things get much worse before they get better, but our girl's spirit is strong, and she is willing to learn the lessons that life is teaching her!
This book took 9 years to write, and you can tell that for the author this was a labour of love! It took me a couple of days to read it, and it was a joy to read! Filled with the colour and allure of different cultures and times, this is a really good read. I definitely hope to read more by this author!