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Author:
• Friday, March 27th, 2009

Anita Amirrezvani was born in Teheran, Iran in 1961 and raised in San Francisco by her mother, after her parents separated when she was two years old. She began going back to Teheran at the age of 13, several times afterwards, to spend time with her father and her Iranian family. During the nine years spent writing her first novel, The Blood of Flowers, she visited Isfahan three times to study the settings described in her novel on location.

She read many books about 17th century Iran under the reign of Shah Abbas and also spent time informing herself about art during this period; like paintings, architecture, textiles and the art and techniques of carpet making.

Amirrezvani worked as an art journalist and a dance critic in San Francisco for ten years.

The Blood of Flowers was published in 2007. It was short-listed for the 2008 Boeke Prize and long-listed for the 2008 Orange Prize for Fiction.

The Blood of Flowers, set in 1620 Isfahan, is a tale of endurance that led to success. Each detail in the novel is meticulously described. The colours are vivid, the flavours are mouth-watering and the fragrances are powerful as much as the emotions.

In order to enhance her fairy tale, the author has chosen an exotic background for her story about the craftsmanship of carpet making, promoted by Shah Abbas the Great, as a fine art. Like Orhan Pamuk’s My Name is Red, it’s a detailed description about how miniature drawing in the late sixteen century Turkey under the reign of Ottoman Sultan Murat III was also a very refined art.

Amirrezvani and Pamuk have both chosen the colour “red” to describe on one side, the colour used by the artists to enhance their work – the blood of flowers – that is used for dying the wool, and on the other side to describe the colour of blood. In Amirrezvani’s case it refers to the precious virginity while in Pamuk’s case it refers to the human incessant bloodshed.

Amirrezvani reveals in her novel that she is clearly influenced by folk tales, an old Iranian tradition. The seven tales woven into the main story, is a homage to the traditional folk storytellers throughout the ages. Another tribute in the novel is given to the anonymous carpet artisans, who will always remain unknown and whose beautiful work has survived many centuries and who are portrayed by the unnamed narrator.

The story is about a painful striving of an innocent immature, ambitious, strong-headed young girl through her journey to the harsh world of adulthood and through her many attempts and her final victory. She is faced with a dilemma; either to forsake her dignity and lead a degrading life of servitude, under her weak-willed uncle’s and his wicked authoritarian wife’s roof, or take the big risk of fighting for a better independent tomorrow, for herself and her mother.

The narrator discovers that a very thin thread exists between the strong will, love and happiness. She is portrayed as an early determined, strong-headed feminist, quite precocious for her time, despite the male dominated society she lives in.

With time and experience the narrator begins to understand her own worth and refuses to live with her “temporary husband” Fereydoon. It’s an unsettled life where she has to keep his interest by being constantly inventive during their night frolics in order for him to keep renewing their marriage contract – called the “Sigheh” – every three months. The explicit sex passages described in detail by the author are unnecessary to the plot.

Instead of being like the submissive Sheherazad in the tale of One Thousand and One Nights and her endeavour to keep the king’s keen interest in her tales in order to escape her death sentence, the narrator chooses instead to face poverty and starvation, in the hope of reaching her target by becoming one of the finest carpet makers of her time.

The description of the beautiful, painstakingly crafted carpets produced by the narrator and her women artisans, contrasts with their own abject poverty and suffering.

A good and rich insight of the old Iranian history and culture. Skillfully written with many themes that are still valid in today’s world.

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Author:
• Friday, October 24th, 2008

Susie Vereker, daughter of an army officer, was born in the Lake District in northern England. She spent a great deal of her life travelling, first with her parents and later with her diplomat husband. She was in Germany, Thailand, Australia, Greece, Switzerland and France, and spent much of her life trying to adapt to the countries and their traditions.

She became a widow in 2001 after a long and happy marriage, has three sons, and now lives in a small Hampshire village in the south of England. Susie Vereker was nominated for the RNA Foster Grant Award 2006, for her novel Pond Lane and Paris.

Susie Vereker has written three books to date:
Pond Lane and Paris published in 2005.
An Old-Fashioned Arrangement published in 2006.
Paris Imperfect will be published in December 2008.

An Old-Fashioned Arrangement, like the Pilot’s wife by Anita Shreve, commences with a wife who receives the visit of her husband’s office colleagues, at home early one morning. They announce his death in a plane crash in the Indonesian jungle, while on a business trip. Bewildered and under the shock, Kim, the charismatic and life-like main character, tries to gather all her strength in order to sort things out for the sake of her 11-year old son, James. Like Kathryn did the best she could to protect her 16-year old daughter Mattie in The Pilot’s Wife.

But unlike The Pilot’s Wife, the atmosphere in the Old-Fashioned Arrangement is less gloomy, less cold and oppressive. The story takes place in beautiful, peaceful and wealthy Geneva, which contrasts with the state of destitution that English expatriate Kim finds herself thrown into after her husband’s sudden, unexpected death. She is penniless, she has been following her unreliable, egoistic husband, Richard, round the world without any pension or cover scheme, even the money in their bank account has been withdrawn by him.

She will now have to leave the comfortable house in the privileged Genevan suburb, Cologny, within a month, without knowing where to go. Her Swiss neighbour and landlord, Henri, who always silently fancied her, besides liking her son James, proposed “An Old- Fashioned Arrangement” to her. “The arrangement” was meant to help Kim solve her financial problems and lead a care free life without uprooting her young son.

Kim is in her forties and Henri is a refined old gentleman who loves women. For her to become his mistress is against her ethics. She goes through a dilemma before accepting the proposal, but finally, having no family, hardly any friends and no home base due to her nomadic life, Kim sees no other choice but to follow her female instinct and succumbs to the offer. She accepts the deal for the security of herself and her son and not out of love.

But she will end up loving and caring for her guardian angel, Henri, to the extent of refusing the advances of Mark, the handsome English diplomat she happened to meet after her relationship with Henri. But after Henri dies, Kim who now knows the taste of freedom, will take more care before accepting to marry Mark. She will want to know him better before tying her life to his. Age and experience have taught Kim to be wiser, rational and less emotional.

Kim didn’t love her husband, Richard. She was even thinking of a divorce and his death would have been a relief if it wasn’t for the lack of money to survive. All these years she depended on her husband and now she will learn,at last,what it feels like to be emancipated.

The characters in the novel are very realistic, humane and well portrayed, any woman in the world can identify with Kim’s big problem, which makes it difficult for readers not to feel involved, especially with the author’s endearing and humoristic style of writing.

Although lighthearted, this novel treats a serious issue and has several unexpected suspense elements, in combination with a few twists, which makes it difficult to put down.

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