On a dark night in long-ago 17th century Persia, a comet streaks across the sky. This event foretells bad luck for a young girl in a small village. When her father passes away unexpectedly, she and her mother must move to the city of Isfahan and throw themselves on the mercy of their father’s half-brother Gostaham, a carpet maker to the Shah, and his greedy wife Gordiyeh. Treated as servants in her Uncle’s house, the unnamed girl soon gains her Uncle’s respect when she demonstrates her skill at carpet making. Women were not allowed in the rug making workshops, so the girl works on her own with guidance from her Uncle who grows to love her, seeing himself in her, but realizing the limits her gender places upon her carpet making career.
One day an offer of marriage arrives, but since the girl (who remains nameless throughout the novel) has no dowry the offer is for a “sigheh” or temporary marriage to a rich man. Gordiyeh pressures her to accept the offer, reminding her of the expense she and her mother have caused Gostaham and herself. The girl accepts, thus losing the only thing of value she owns — her virginity.
Throughout the novel, the girl’s mother weaves fables and tales like Sheherazade, providing stories within stories.
This beautifully written first novel captures the sights and sounds of medieval Iran, bringing to life the city of Isfahan with it’s bridges, mosques and colorful bazaars, while providing insight into a society with little regard for women beyond their abilities to look beautiful and bear children. Recommended.