The Truth About Persian Carpets 

Set in 17th-century Iran, Anita Amirrezvani's new novel spotlights female rug-makers.

After her parents separated when she was two, Tehran-born Anita Amirrezvani moved with her mother to San Francisco. At thirteen, she started making solo visits to her father and his new family in Iran. Between high school and college, she decided to take a year off and spend it there. That was 1979, which "turned out to be the fateful year of the Islamic Revolution. We heard gunfire and watched the sky turn black with smoke from fires." She spent her seventeenth birthday afraid; less than two weeks later, her father and stepmother packed up their small sons and left with her "for what we hoped would be a short time. It wasn't."

Iran's stormy social and political history fuels Amirrezvani's new novel The Blood of Flowers, which she will discuss at the El Cerrito Library (6510 Stockton Ave., El Cerrito) on July 15. The novel follows a talented young 17th-century female carpet-maker into the ecstasy of artistic expression and the agony of an unwanted marriage. Female rug-makers at that time were "very common," the author says, "just as they are today." During a recent stay in an Iranian hotel, Amirrezvani "noticed that a loom had been set up in the lobby, displaying a half-finished rug. A woman came to work on it every morning, and the hotel staff told us that the rugs she made always sold before being finished because guests would fall in love with them. In small villages and among nomadic tribes, women and their daughters made all kinds of knotted goods — and still do."

The UC Berkeley grad hopes that her book will help dispel stereotypes and help Western readers understand that Iranian women throughout history "have been quite strong in their own spheres — meaning the home, in social centers like the bathhouse, in raising children, in supervising house-related staff and purchases, and in craft-related work performed at home." She also wanted "to portray women as they might have seen themselves" rather than as they appear in the works of European Orientalist painters such as Eugène Delacroix and Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres: "As much as we may admire the beauty of their paintings ... it's impossible not to notice that their 'male gaze' focuses on things like sensual dates, split pomegranates, and of course, lush female body parts," the author points out. "My goal was to provide a more nuanced view of premodern Iranian women." As for their 21st-century counterparts, "it would be a gross misconception to think of them as shrinking violets." Nonetheless, the author chose never, in the novel, to reveal her heroine's name. This decision emerged one morning as Amirrezvani examined the many Iranian rugs in her own home crafted by females: None were signed. 7 p.m.


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