In this issue:
The Blood of Flowers is set in 17th century Persia, a complex and fascinating tale written in the voice of a young woman from a small village; Still Summer is not the story to read before embarking on a cruise in anything smaller than a liner; Barefoot is a take on the interactions of siblings, as well as the anguish of a mother facing her mortality. .
And Consider These: The Empty Nest is a series of meditations on the fact that being a good parent demands the strength to let go of the job; A Run on Hose show us the universal through the use of details and characters that resemble the woman down the street
THE BLOOD OF FLOWERS
by Anita Amirrezavani, © 2007
Little, Brown & Company; Hardback, 368 pp
This novel is a most auspicious debut for Anita Amirrezvani, a young woman born in Tehran and reared in the United States. Set in 17 th century Persia, it is a complex and fascinating tale written in the voice of a young woman from a small village.
When her father dies suddenly, the girl and her mother are left destitute. They travel to the capital city to seek support from the father’s half brother, a successful designer of carpets whose clients include the Shah himself. The uncle takes them in, but his wife resents their presence, and she treats them as servants, forcing both the girl and her mother to live in a tiny, dark room and perform household chores along with the other servants.
The girl, who is fourteen, was known in her village for her skill at knotting rugs, but she is astonished by the difficult knots and intricate patterns needed for the sophisticated rugs produced by her uncle’s shop. She begs him to teach her how to draw and plot out the patterns, and gradually he also teaches her the principles and elements of design. Making carpets is traditionally a man’s job, but her uncle discerns her talent and her burning desire to learn, and takes her on as a pupil in secret.
In an effort to ease their burdens, the mother arranges a sigheh (which is a kind of temporary, pseudo marriage) for the girl. It’s a practice that allows the husband to renew or reject the marriage contract every three months, in return for payment to her family. She continues to live with her uncle, but her “husband” frequently sends for her to come to one of his houses for the night.
Fortunately, the woman in such an arrangement also has the right to terminate the agreement, because the “marriage” becomes unbearable when it is discovered that the husband is also engaged to an upper-class woman who happens to be the girl’s best friend.
At this point, the girl decides not to renew the agreement, and pays a scribe to send a letter to her “husband” canceling the arrangement, using her uncle’s seal to sign the letter. When her duplicity is discovered, the uncle and his wife evict the girl and her mother.
There ensue many days of struggle for mere survival, but through her spirit and intelligence, the girl finds them a home and eventually creates a rug design and manufacturing business that will sustain them, as well.
This is an exotic tale, full of information about life in Persia in the 1600’s, but it is also a coming-of-age story, with a heroine so honest and articulate that the reader can’t help loving her. If you’re looking for a treat of a read, The Blood of Flowers is a likely choice.
by Jacquelyn Mitchard, © 2007
Published by Warner Books; Hardcover publication due August 2007
by Elin Hilderbrand, © 2007
Published by Little, Brown & Co.
Well, there is chick lit and there is soap opera, and sometimes it’s hard to discern the fine line between them. Neither of these books makes it easy to tell the difference, despite some good writing and interesting characters.
Still Summer is the more overtly adventurous of the two. It concerns the reunion of four women: Tracy, her cousin Janis, Olivia, and Holly. In high school, 20 years before, they had been best friends, known to one and all as The Godmothers. Olivia, who has been recently widowed, has been living in Italy, and to celebrate her return to the States, the four of them plan to take a Caribbean cruise on a chartered sailboat.
At the last minute, Janis is unable to come along, and her place is taken by Cammie, Tracy’s rebellious, college-age daughter who has just been dumped by her boyfriend.
Everything on board seems lovely. There is even a presentable young captain whose attentions begin to ease Cammie’s wounded heart. And then a series of mistakes lead to utter disaster, and after the owner is killed, the four women find themselves adrift in the boat.
This is not the story to read before embarking on a cruise in anything smaller than a liner. The descriptions are harrowing, and the interpersonal dynamics that occur under stress are both predictable and distressing.
The ending of the tale really does come under the heading of soap opera, and feels like a bit of a cheat, for all its intended uplift. However, it doesn’t destroy the excitement and escape offered by the events of the story. Just don’t read this book if you suffer from claustrophobia: being stuck on a boat in the middle of a sea, with a dwindling supply of food and water isn’t anyone’s idea of a fun summer adventure.
Barefoot also offers up a group of women, three of them, this time, on a shared vacation on Nantucket Island.
Vicki (mother of two young boys) is battling lung cancer. She has elected to spend the summer at the house willed to her and her sister Brenda by their great aunt (recently deceased). Her husband has doubts about the efficacy of undergoing chemo at the Nantucket hospital instead of in Connecticut, where they live, but Vicki is adamant about spending the summer on the island. Her husband will visit on weekends.
Brenda, Vicki’s sister, has just lost her job at a prestigious university where she was a professor, because she has had an affair with one of her students. She has come to Nantucket in part to try to write a screenplay, and in part to help Vicki.
Melanie, Vicki’s friend, has fled her Connecticut home after discovering that her husband is having an affair with a woman in his office. Ironically, Melanie discovers that she is pregnant — this, after years of trying via in vitro, etc.
The three women spend the summer struggling with their assorted problems, aided by a young man named Josh Flynn, a college student native to the island, who agrees to become babysitter/buddy for Vicki’s two sons.
Hilderbrand is a wonderful writer. Her descriptions of Nantucket evoke incredible beach nostalgia. Her take on the interactions of siblings, as well as the anguish of a mother facing her mortality, ring true. And while the book surely qualifies as chick lit and brushes mighty close to soap opera, it manages nonetheless to be an engaging tale, and a very good read.