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Friday, June 15, 2012

Equal of the Sun

Equal of the Sun follows Anita Amirrezvani’s 2007 debut novel, The Blood of Flowers, a bestseller longlisted for that year’s Orange Prize. Both books focus on interesting periods in Iranian history, but the new one is set one century earlier than its predecessor. It is 1576 and the shah is dead under circumstances that indicate that he may have been poisoned. The political intrigue that results is every bit as bloody and complicated as anything portrayed in historical fiction based upon English history of similar periods.

Pari, the shah’s daughter has been his trusted advisor since she was fourteen years old and she is determined to retain her power and influence. Because one of her brothers is blind and the other was exiled by her father years earlier, choosing the shah’s successor is complicated. Pari knows that, if her family is to maintain control of the country, she must move quickly or the royal court will choose to someone from another tribe to succeed her father. The good news is that she succeeds in having one of her brothers named the new shah; the bad news is that he is not the kind, goodhearted man she remembers and loves from her childhood. Rather, he has become a bitter, bloodthirsty tyrant who distrusts Pari so much that he strips her of all influence. In the ensuing bloodbath, those unable to convince the new shah of their absolute loyalty are at risk - including Pari and her allies.

Pari, one of history’s “powers behind the throne,” is an interesting character. There were certainly other powerful women in that period, even in countries like Iran, but by aiming higher than most, she marked a special place for herself in Iranian history (the character is based upon the very real Princess Pari Khan Khanoom who was born in 1548). But there is, I think, an even more interesting character in Equal of the Sun. The book’s narrator is Javaher, a eunuch who has gotten himself attached to the royal court for reasons known only to him.

Anita Amirrezvani
Even as eunuchs go, Javaher is an unusual case, a man who volunteered to become a eunuch at age seventeen in order to express and prove his loyalty to the shah. As cringe-worthy as that decision is to contemplate, Javaher saw it as a way to honor his father’s memory. His father, a royal accountant, had been murdered by someone of power, and Javaher hoped that by placing himself inside the palace he would learn enough about the murder to identify those responsible.

Equal of the Sun is a violent and sexy novel. Javaher is in a unique position to describe what goes on inside the shah’s harem and the rest of the women’s quarters – and he does so with detailed relish, including accounts of his own rather surprising sexual exploits. He also offers intriguing insight into the daily lives of those thousands of men forced to sacrifice their manhood in service to the royal family women of the day. But, at heart, this is a political novel and, as such, its real lesson is that the battle is often won before soldiers take the field. Pari Khan Khanoom and her powerful ally, Javaher, understood this better than most.

(Review Copy provided by Publisher)
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