Monday 4 December 2023

The Blood of Flowers by Anita Amirrezvani

This novel takes place within the Islamic Culture of 17th Century Iran.  It was no surprise to me that Islamic Culture is male dominated and is no friend to women.  The main character in the story is a sixteen year old girl who lives in a small village with her father and mother.  The girl is approaching the time when she will be given a husband.  As the story begins, a comet is moving across the sky which forewarns of disasters to come and a disaster does occur shortly thereafter:  the girl’s father dies while working in his field and this death sends lives of the girl and her mother spiraling downward in a totally unexpected direction.

In Islamic Culture, all power and wealth are owned and controlled by the males in a household.  If he dies, the women in his family are set adrift without any power or income.  In this case, the two had to spend the meager savings that would have been used for the girl’s dowry, for food and staying alive.  The girl was a very talented weaver who had just completed a beautiful carpet, and that was sold to a trader for money.  As their lives deteriorated without further income, in desperation, the mother  sent a message to her husband’s brother asking for help.  He lived in the booming city of Isfahan, center of the carpet trade, and the uncle did offered to help them if they came.

The mother and 16 year old girl spent the last of their money to travel on a caravan to Isfahan.  The uncle was a skilled carpet maker, designer, and “colorist” who ran a workshop which was part of the Shah’s palace.  He was wealthy and welcomed his two village relatives into his home.  

         Unfortunately, his wife was a greedy and miserable woman, and the two poor relatives soon found themselves working as servants in the uncle’s household.  Unlike in their village, the two discovered that in the city, they must cover their heads and faces anytime they went into public. 

        Her uncle, was impressed by the young girl’s love of weaving, and her carpet making abilities and despite her sex, he took her under his wing and taught her more advanced carpet design and allowed her to make a carpet to sell, but the aunt ended up giving it away as an incentive to a wealthy buyer, leaving the daughter and mother without the much needed money. 

The daughter was introduced and became friends with a Naheed, a girl her age from wealthy friends of her aunt.  Naheed was smitten by a football player and secretly sent messages to him.  She later used the daughter, in an excuse to watch him play, something her family disallowed.

       When Naheed was caught, she blamed it on the daughter which got the daughter into trouble with her uncle.  Once while coming into the house, the daughter started removing the head gear from her face, just as a wealthy horse trader was leaving.  He saw her face as he left, then later approached the uncle seeking a “sigheh” with the girl.

A “Sigheh” is an islamic concept I had never heard of.  Basically it is temporary legalized prostitution, paying money to a woman or her family for a “temporary” marriage.  In this case, because the horse trader was a wealthy customer of her uncle, her aunt pressured the daughter to accept the three month “Sigheh” contract, even though it would ruin her future chances of a regular marriage because she would no longer be a virgin.  

         Under pressure not to antagonize her relatives, who provided shelter to her mother, the daughter accepted.  During the sigheh  she began to fall for the horse trader, but soon discovered that he was a real womanizer, and then what really killed the relationship, was when the horse trader took a “official” wife from a more “suitable” family.   And who was his new wife you might ask?  Surprise, surprise, it was Naheed, the girl’s her only real friend.

After her contracted time for the Sigheh was finished, it was offered again, but this time, the daughter refused, which resulted in a lot of lost carpet sales for the uncle from the horse trader, and the daughter and her mother were thrown out of her uncle’s house to live in abject poverty.   They were forced into begging on the street for money for food.  Things became extremely dire for their existence, but slowly toward the end of the novel, the uncle softened, and things did begin to improve to the point they were able to provide for themselves, due to the daughter’s carpet weaving abilities.

        I was never a big fan of Islamic Culture, and this novel did nothing to alter my impression.  I never believed that the forced covering of women’s faces was to protect and  honor women, and after learning about the practice of sigheh, which is attributed to Mohammed, I certainly haven’t changed my opinion of the religion or the culture it has spawned.

    I am not sure where the novel’s title came from because I can’t remember anything about either blood or flowers in it.

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