Anita Amirrezvani was 14 years old the first time she shopped for a traditional handmade rug in Iran. At the time, she was living with her mother, Katherine Smith, who had raised her in San Francisco. She had traveled to Iran on her own to visit her father, Ahmad Amirrezvani. During the trip, he took her to a small shop in Teheran, where the stacks of carpets were piled high, and they spent a long time mulling over each intricate handmade rug as the dealer spread them out, one after the other. The teenager in her was drawn to the bright greens and oranges of the more modern rugs, Amirrezvani recalled. But her father recommended a more traditional carpet, with a classic Isfahan pattern hand-knotted in wool dyed with deep reds and
Anita Amirrezvani's novel, "Blood of Flowers" has been translated in many languages including, German, French and Lithuanian. (Joel Rosenbaum/The Reporter) indigo. "He, being older and having taste, knew what classic design was, and he knew it was a nice example of it," Amirrezvani, now 46, said during an interview in her Berkeley home. "That appealed to me, the fact that it was done in a more traditional way." At the time, Amirrezvani didn't know that this early childhood experience would have such a profound impact on her, or what an important role the journey would play in developing the background for her historical novel, "The Blood of flowers." The novel is the current choice of The Reporter Book Club. The author will discuss her book at the group's meeting at 7 p.m. Feb. 13, at the Vacaville Library-Town Square. 'The Blood of Flowers' is set in 17th-century Iran, in Isfahan, a city that was so vast and alive with bustling bazaars and art that it was nicknamed "The Image of the World." The main characters in Amirrezvani's novel are fictional, but the depictions of their everyday lives and artistry skills were crafted after years of research into the cultural history of Iran. One of the main characters, a young girl who was forced to move in with relatives when her father died unexpectedly, learns the art of traditional rug-making. The historical traditions Amirrezvani found in her travels and research are woven throughout the story. Of her visit to Isfahan with her father as a teenager, she said: "I remember being completely dazzled, in a way that only a teenager can be." Years later, she began reading about the history of the fabled city and Shah Abbas the Great who pioneered an age of the arts. "I learned who had built (Isfahan), what his reign had been like, the architecture, the calligraphy and bridge-building," said the author, who was born in Tehran. "It had a kind of ripple effect through my life." Amirrezvani said that she used to meet many American adults who had lived in Iran before the Revolution of 1979, when the country was transformed from a monarchy into an Islamic Republic. She was in Tehran the day the revolution began, remembers hearing the gunfire, and seeing the fires darken the sky over the city. Her family moved off Iran 10 days later. Since then, relations between the two countries have been increasingly strained, and cultural exchange programs have become rare. "I wanted to write about an Iran that I thought was disappearing from people's consciousness," Amirrezvani said. "All of a sudden, (Iran) seemed to be taking on this unknown quality ... We could probably have a conversation about almost any part of Europe, and we could bring it into our minds together," Amirrezvani said. "But if I say, 'Have you ever been to Isfahan?' you'd say, 'What?' And I think that kind of thing is really a shame." And so Amirrezvani made it her goal to write about culture and history of Iran that doesn't make the newspaper headlines. She worked as a journalist and art critic by day, and blended fact with fiction by night. It took Amirrezvani nine years to write the novel, and for the first five years, she didn't tell a soul. "It's a long process to develop a novel," Amirrezvani said. "I just wasn't sure if it would ever get anywhere. I didn't want to tell anyone, because I didn't want to answer their questions on how it was going, and have to say, 'terrible!' " The fruits of her labor show that her progress was anything but. The novel has been published in 12 countries, and has been hailed by major critics as a "passion-filled delight," and compared to a rarified object, "like a fine, old carpet." To be sure, the fine old carpet with the traditional Isfahan design that inspired Amirrezvani decades ago decorates the living room of her Berkeley apartment today, where she has lived and worked as a writer for the past 20 years. An abstract expressionist painting made by her mother decorates one wall, and traditional Iranian cushions are placed under a picture window overlooking a quiet Berkeley street on the other. Amirrezvani sometimes sits on the cushions under the window to write. Amirrezvani is currently working on an master's degree in fine arts at San Francisco State University, so fans of her work can look forward to a future as rich in artistry as the historical Iran she masterfully recreated in "Blood of Flowers."