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Anita Amirrezvani
THE BLOOD OF FLOWERS is interspersed with traditional folk tales. Are these stories that were told to you and has the oral tradition of storytelling been an influence on your writing?
The Blood of Flowers is very deeply inspired by the engine of the traditional folk tale, in which itís common for the protagonist to set out on a life-changing quest and slay dragons along the way. These ďdragonsĒ may be external or internal. In The Blood of Flowers, my heroine faces unexpected challenges after her fatherís death and must forge a new path of her own, despite the complications created by her own personality. I wish I could tell you that I grew up hearing traditional Iranian stories, but the truth is that I came to them as an adult. When I was writing my book, I did a lot of research into Iranian history and culture and fell in love with the beautiful tales I encountered. It occurred to me that although Westerners are quite familiar with Aesopís fables, the tales collected by the Brothers Grimm, and the Greek and Roman myths, Iranian oral culture is little known. I wanted to share this richness, and the sources that I drew on included collections of tales as well as epic poems, which are often studded with traditional stories.
The atmosphere, scents, sounds and tastes of 17th century Persia are powerfully evoked in the novel. How did you research it?
I visited Iran three times while I was writing the book, and I was especially careful to note sensory impressions. When I walked into the great square in Isfahan known as the Image of the World, for example, I heard the sound of artisans pounding the shapes of animals into metal cups, plates, and teapots. This sound filled the square with an unforgettable music, literally a percussive soundtrack beneath all the other sounds of the area. Although I did not use that particular detail in my book, itís the kind of thing I took notes on because itís unique to the place. Back at home, one of my greatest pleasures was to spend time reading about the early seventeenth century. Shah Abbas, who ruled Iran during that period, had a scribe named Eskandar Beg Monshi who wrote an extensive chronicle about his reign. My book is not tied to political events, but Monshiís account gave me insights into the way that the people of the period, especially powerful men, thought about things. I also consulted many art books, such as Arthur Upham Pope and Phyllis Ackermanís Survey of Persian Art, which has extensive photos of Iranian architecture, paintings, carpets, textiles, coins, and so on. I used these massive volumes Ė more than four thousand pages in all Ė as a reference on the art of the seventeenth century and beyond.
The idea of the sigheh, or temporary marriage, is fascinating. Was it a widespread convention and is it still practiced?
According to the scholarship Iíve read, it is mainly an urban phenomenon and itís unclear how widely it is practiced. The reason for this is that two people can make the agreement themselves and no one else ever has to know about it. One scholar has suggested that as a result, it is probably more common than people realize. Public perceptions of this form of marriage have fluctuated with the times and within social classes, but regardless of how it is regarded, it continues to be legal in Iran.
The Dutchman, the only Westerner in the novel, does not come out of it well. To what extent does he represent Iranian perceptions of the West?
I wrote about a Dutch character because the seventeenth century marks the rise to power of the Dutch East India Company, the worldwide corporation founded in 1602. The company set up trading posts around the world, including one in Isfahan in 1623, and became the largest importer of spices into Iran. The English were interested, too: The first ambassadorial mission to Iran was sent in 1627 with the goal of obtaining trade concessions. The Dutchman symbolizes the beginning of such foreign influence. Eventually, the trickle of foreigners would increase and they would come to exert an enormous amount of pressure on the country. In the 19th century, Iran was basically divided into spheres of influence by the Russians and the British, although it was never actually a colony. Later, influence passed to the Americans after the CIA sponsored its first peacetime coup in 1953 by overthrowing Iranís democratically elected prime minister, Mohammed Mossadeq, who had nationalized the oil fields (which had been operated by the British until then). In short, there has been quite a lengthy history of foreign interest and intervention.
The narratorís story exemplifies how vulnerable women were in that society. How does it compare with the condition of women in present day Iran?
I donít see the time periods as parallel. Iranian women in the seventeenth century lived long before the rise of feminism anywhere in the world. Iranian women in the twenty-first century have been adamant in fighting for their rights and are undoubtedly influenced by the activism that emerged elsewhere in the 1960s. For example, in 1979, women were quite involved in the demonstrations that ended 2,500 years of Iranian monarchy. Since 2006, they have organized an important effort called the Million Signatures Campaign whose goal is to eliminate laws that discriminate against women.
Are modern Persian carpets made with similar materials and techniques and are they as beautiful as the ones you describe?
Although todayís wool may be spun by machine rather than by hand, and todayís dyes are likely to be synthetic rather than natural, Iranian craftsmen and women continue to knot rugs on hand-strung looms in the time-honored traditional fashion, a great labor of love and gift to the rest of us. Recently, I read that an estimated eight million people are still involved in Iranian carpet production, including those who raise the sheep, spin and dye the wool, knot the rugs, and sell them in the bazaars. As for whether modern carpets are as beautiful as old ones, I think this is a subjective issue. I personally prefer traditional and/or tribal patterns to most of todayís urban designs, which look overly neat to me, but itís a matter of individual taste. Whatever the style, handmade carpets are still much loved in Iran, as they are in the West.
Anita Amirrezvani

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