Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Anahita's Woven Riddle, by Meghan Nuttall Sayres

Consider yourself forewarned. This book--the last of the 2007 Top Ten Best Books for Young Adults that I am reading for this project--is hard to find. I looked for it at my public library, which is typically well-stocked with young adult literature, but I couldn't find it. Likewise, I couldn't locate it in independent and chain bookstores, either. I had to order it through a local bookseller to get it in my hands.

Anahita's Woven Riddle tells the story of a young nomadic tribeswoman, Anahita, and her quest to exert some influence over the process of selecting a husband in turn-of-the-century Iran. I say "exert some influence over" because in Anahita's culture women traditionally had little or no choice over whom they would marry. Typically, the family made all of the marriage decisions and arrangements.

Anahita, however, is an independent spirit--in part because she has been raised to be so by her father, the leader of her tribe--and so she rejects her father's first choice for her future husband. For mainly political reasons, Anahita's father wishes her to marry the local khan, a powerful, monied, elderly, but slightly odd figure--he has a cat fetish--with a checkered past (his first two wives died for reasons that are not entirely clear).

Anahita and her father have a tradition of trading riddles with one another; sensing that her father has some misgivings himself about the proposed marriage to the khan, Anahita requests that she be allowed to weave a riddle into her qali, or wedding carpet. Instead of having an arranged marriage, Anahita suggests that she be allowed to invite suitors to guess the answer to her riddle. The winner of the riddle contest will then win her hand in marriage.

Like Samurai Shortstop, Anahita's Woven Riddle presents a great deal of useful historical and cultural information about life at the turn into the 20th century. At times, Sayres's writing is just beautiful--much like the Persian carpets she describes in this book. Readers learn a great deal about the internal political, religious, and cultural systems in Iran, as well as the issues that were emerging as a result of increased economic development and interactions with Western cultures and customs. The insights into the complex negotiations of these issues is pertinent to any reader today with an interest in events in the Middle East--especially young women.

Teachers with an interest in exploring these issues and negotiations--perhaps in a middle school social studies course, or a unit on world cultures--will find this book of value. Because of its Cinderella-like qualities, the story itself is likely to appeal to younger teenage girls or even girls in 4th or 5th grade. Older adolescents may find the plot somewhat predictable and tedious. But the occassionally brilliant writing, and insights into Iranian culture make this a book well-worth reading.

If only you are lucky enough to find a copy.

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