Equal of the Sun
© 2012 Anita Amirrezvani
When Javaher came to the Iranian court, he did so with a secret mission: he intended to find out who murdered his father, and then return the favor. So intent was he on this that he had himself made a eunuch to qualify for court service. He quickly found himself at the side of an extraordinary woman, the Princess Pari — who, standing in for her aging father, effectively ran the government. But when the shah died without designating a successor, both the realm and the palace are thrown into chaos. Being a woman, Pari is not allowed to take the reins herself…but she has no intention of letting her family’s labors go to waste in civil war. Her intervention makes her a target in the wave of violence that follows her father’s death in the next two years, and eventually ends in tragedy. Equal to the Sun is her faithful servant’s contribution to history; though she will be dismissed by the official histories, penned by scribes bowing to the wishes of far inferior and petty potentates, hers is a story worth telling.
This is Amirrezvani’s second novel set in historical Iran, and continues her lovely incorporation of oral tradition within the twists and turns of the text. The novel’s basic plot is basic court intrigue, albeit with an mesmerizing figure at the center. Princess Pari was a real personality, though given how little record there is of her life there’s a lot of interpretation at work here. Not lost on the author and her characters is the reign of Queen Elizabeth, who is fighting the same battle in England that Pari fights in Iran, that a woman can reign as effectively as a man. Amirrezvani draws a few discrete parallels to Elizabeth’s story, having Pari declare herself married to her country. Her possession of the royal farr, the glory and essence of sovereignty, is recognized by increasingly more characters as the novel wears on. In a court of men obsessed with tribalism and looting the coffers, she remembers how glorious Iran once was, and can see danger looming in the restive Ottoman empire, now looking at the internecine chaos as opportunity for its own expansion. Pari’s downfall is not jealous men, however, but a jealous woman. Her death is so surprising and abrupt that the reader is almost as horrified as Jahaver.
While Blood of Flowers had a more original premise (telling the story of an unknown artisan who creates exquisitely beautiful tapestries), I welcome the return of Amirrezvani to storytelling. If she had only written a novel set in historical Iran, that would be of interest enough, especially given how passionate her characters are towards one another and their goals. But her integration of oral tradition — folk stories in Blood, epic poetry here — with the text of the novel — is unique. Her characters are inspired and nurtured by stories old, even as they try to figure out their own destiny. Parts of the book do bear a the too-heavy stamp of modern writing, though, like the intermittent sex scenes. I tried to skip through them — is there anything more awkward than reading a woman’s version of a eunuch trying to have sex? — but pillow talk often turned to political intrigue or mystery-solving. That aside though…if she writes again, I’ll read her again!