NekoShogun Reviews The Blood of Flowers by Anita Amirrezvani

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Let’s see… where to begin?

How to begin?

……

*The sound of a throat being somewhat nervously cleared*

Well then… let’s just start, I suppose…

I have strong feelings about The Blood of Flowers (by Anita Amirrezvani)far stronger and more abundant than I’d expected. Which is strange, I suppose, since I didn’t like the book quite as well as I’d hoped to, though neither did I dislike it enough that I should feel this much, this passionately. Well, perhaps passion is too strong a word. Perhaps…

To further complicate matters, I’m not even sure if the reasons why I didn’t like, but neither disliked, the book are objective failings on its part, or merely an incompatibility between myself and its chosen narrative style. A style which, while not to my taste (and potentially, though not certainly, an objective weakness), is actually befitting the era in which the novel is set. An era and place which is so richly detailed, so beautifully (though I can’t myself say how accurately) recreated throughout the novel that I could almost, but not quite, overlook my qualms with the story and the characters and the overt manner in which the exposition was exposed. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The Blood of Flowers, set in seventeenth century Iran, tells the story of a young woman coming of age in the wake of her father’s untimely death. Forced to seek the support of family, the girl and her mother leave their small village and journey to the great city if Isfahan. Though life is not always easy, the girl falls in love with the city, as well as the art of carpet making (a craft practiced by her uncle, who agrees to teach her, though as a woman she could never join the ranks of the royal workshop such as he).

The story is of coming of age; of love and lust; of friendship and the ignorance of youth; of Iran and carpet making; of the joys and sorrows, beauty and great injustices of life. But while the story’s scope is broad, it feels limited by its rather predictable and unoriginal execution, and by the lack of depth expressed by the characters, who feel at times as if they’re merely playing their parts in order to move from one situation to the next.

The unremarkable characters and familiar, almost YA story (save, of course, the sensual, engrossing sex scenes which felt more graphic than they probably were) is a small matter, but what makes it truly hard for me to love The Blood of Flowers as much as I want to is the aforementioned narrative style, with its inelegant exposition and its exasperating need to explain and reiterate every thought, every action and conversation. The information could have been conveyed far more gracefully (and with fewer words) had it been shown rather than told (and even when things were shown, we were still told afterwords, as if everything need be explained else the reader miss something). At times I felt as if every paragraph ended with an reiteration and explanation of all that had transpired, up there, in those sentences I’d just read.

While reading the novel I attributed this to inexperience on the author’s part (says me, an unpublished kid with no formal education on writing. Sometimes I feel like such a jerk…), but in the interview at the back of my copy, the author indicates that the style was deliberately chosen to evoke old folktales and stories the like of The Arabian Nights. This begs the question: is an antiquated and, by modern standards, undesirable narrative style acceptable in a work of historical fiction? Am I perhaps mistaking personal preference for some infallible law of writing? Overstepping my bounds? I don’t know the answer, only that I believe (whether rightly or not) that the desired style could have been preserved while still adhering to the principle of Show Don’t Tell enough to not bludgeon the reader with unnecessary explanation.

If the story and characters feel dull, the world is a burst of color. It’s clear that many years of love and research went in to recreating seventeenth century Iran, and the result is a vibrant feast for the senses. Reading, I could practically smell the steaming coffee, taste the aromatic food, hear the call to prayer and the bustle of busy streets and crowded bazaars. The many carpets, so loved and admired by the protagonist, came to life in my imagination so beautifully I longed to see them for real, though a part of me doubts they could ever live up to my expectations.

I think that The Blood of Flowers is a good book, one that I liked (occasionally loved) and enjoyed reading. I also think that it could have been better, could have been truly enthralling. But then, I could be wrong…

~NekoShogun

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