By Anita Amirrezvani
The un-named narrator is a a girl in her early teens. She lives a contented life with her parents in a small village in rural Iran. The unexpected death of her father leads to severe poverty for her and her mother. They take the decision to travel through the desert to Isfahan in the hope that relatives will care for them. Although the relatives take them in they are treated as servants rather than family and feel powerless to change their situation. The narrator has always been interested in making carpets and as luck would have it her uncle is a well-known carpet maker. He sees her interest and recognises her skill and so becomes her teacher and mentor. At the same time as learning to design and knot carpets and working as a servant, her aunt and uncle arrange a sigheh for her. She spends many nights as a rich man's concubine and is often completely exhuasted. Eventually she ends the sigheh and is thrown out of her uncle's home. Both she and her mother now have to fend for themselves and find themselves in their worst situation yet. Through her resiliance and carpet making skills the narrator manages to begin building a new and independent life for herself and her mother.
I found Amirrezvani's depiction of 17th century life in Iran fascinating and her descriptions of Isfahan make me even more desperate to get there than I already was. Iran has interested me for a long time and I wrote my Master's disertation on the practice of temporary marriage (known as sigheh or muta). This is the first novel I've read that features this practice and this made it all the more interesting for me.
I almost got to Iran last year, but it fell through at the last minute and I had to make alternative holiday plans. This book has brought it to the forefront of my mind again and inpired me to have another go at getting there.