Review - Anahita's Woven Riddle by Meghan Nuttall Sayres

Current Theme Song (aka what's playing on my ipod right now): Silver Lead and Snowy Tears by Superchunk.

First review of the diversity challenge! It is a lovely story and I am really excited to share it. (Oh and the hot and cold clue has to do with the location. Iran = very hot, but it also snows there which surprised me. It really shouldn't have. It snows here too, a lot more than you'd expect).

Anahita's Woven Riddle
Published: 2006
Current Amazon Ranking: #381,297

Book at a glance: Weaving a bit of fairy tale into her rich exploration of Persian life, Meghan Nuttall Sayres has written a debut novel that delights and fascinates. In this enchanting historical novel, a nomad in nineteenth-century Iran takes fate into her own hands when her father promises her in marriage to a man she dislikes. Anahita convinces her father to let her hold a contest in which potential suitors must correctly answer the riddle she has woven into her wedding carpet. A diplomat, a schoolteacher, a shepherd, and a prince compete in Anahita's battle of wits for the heart of this extraordinary girl.

First Line:
"Baba, I have a riddle for you," Anahita said, standing among the pregnant ewes corralled for an early spring shearing.

Second Thoughts: This was a unique, lush, and vibrant book. It brought a different culture to life to me more fully than any book I can recall in recent memory. Not much is said about Muslim culture or the middle east, and hardly ever in a favorable light except where the character is trying to break away from the life they know. This rather extraordinary story told it not only from a perspective within that culture, but with tact and delicacy. Anahita does not try to break away from her culture or the traditions of her people, but moves within those bounds and finds a place in her world. This was enormously refreshing, instead of forcing western ideals into a place with different values. That was one of the highest nods I can give to Ms. Sayres, who seems to have a fairly intimate knowledge and relationship with this culture.

The other is the immersion of this rather foreign place. Often times I read of multi-cultural books who make a noble attempt to take the world they are trying to describe and make it relatable and understandable to an audience with possibly little to no knowledge of that place. Ms. Sayres accomplishes this naturally and fluidly. She does not describe the many unique pieces at great length, but refers to them organically, as Anahita would, and expects the reader to understand from the context (which works out very well). However, there is a glossary at the back, which I referred to more than once.

The history of it fascinated me. It takes place in 19th century Iran/Persia (about 1885, the author says in her notes). Russians were starting to invade (which I had no idea about), and the modern world was starting to creep in in the smallest ways. But so much of it still felt so ancient, like it could have been any time in the last thousand years. Reading this was like becoming lost between worlds, and that was absolutely enchanting and riveting experience.

Anahita, her entire family, and several of the suitors were very well developed, and each extremely unique. I loved them all. However, I had problem with a few of the other minor characters, namely her cousin and the main antagonist (the khan), the man she did not want to marry. He was very 2-dimensional, and in fact fulfilled several stereotypical roles of bad villains, including having a pet cat he carried everywhere and was the only thing he seemed to care for at all. Much of his dialogue was terrible as well. But luckily he did not feature much into the story except as a general unseen force. Her cousin I also wish had more complexity to her, since she was referred to often, but little was done to establish her as a character who could stand on her own.

I loved the sounding board her father acted as, and through his character we could see several faults in Anahita that were not readily apparent when reading close to her. One problem resolved itself too quickly at the end in a single self-sacrificing incident that was too sudden and absolute for me, but her character was good and genuine enough that it was not a major concern of mine. The absolute lushness of the history and the surroundings where it made you feel like you were really there more than made up for any minor faults the story might have had.

The Final Word: An absolutely rich and immersive story of a little-told culture/part of history which is well looking into. It is a world to get lost into, so much that you don't really notice any faults that you might find. Definitely worth reading.


Kate said...

This sounds like a great read. Superb review!

Heather Zundel said...

Thank you Kate! And dang! You've been busy catching up on posts, haven't you?