Discussion Guide for Anahita | Meghan Nuttall Sayres

Discussion Guide for Anahita

Discussion Guide for Anahita’s Woven Riddle


1. In many ways this is a story about actions and their consequences. In what way does Anahita take control of her life? Do her actions have negative consequences? Why?

2. Throughout history, and still today in many cultures, people uphold the tradition of arranged marriages. What are your thoughts on arranged marriage? Do you understand the reasons Anahita’s father wants to choose a husband for her, and for her to wed at such a young age? On page 5 he says to Anahita, “Marriage is what gives women value . . . To be unwed in this world is to be nothing!” In the world of the story, is this true? Does this system have its merits? If so, what are they? If not, why?

3. There is an emphasis on the tradition of poetry in Anahita’s Woven Riddle. For instance, Arash consults his book of Sufi poetry in times of need. How else is poetry used throughout the story? Why do some of the weavings include poems? 4. If you were to devise a riddle, what would it be?

5. Do you feel as though Anahita’s culture influences her actions and the choices that she makes? Think about your own culture. In what ways do you feel it influences the way you behave?

6. Rug-making plays a central role in this story. What does it mean to be a rug maker? What does the weaving symbolize? Are the weavings themselves symbolic?

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Q: Anahita is a remarkably modern character in a traditional nineteenth-century Persian society. How did you come up with her and her story?

A: Anahita’s story began with an Afshar tribal rug that I keep in my home, which is full of symbolism and was likely woven as a dowry carpet. There is an inscription on the rug, “Shah live forever,” and it is dated around 1936. Thus, I assumed the weaver of this rug was a strong woman who expressed her opinions, and possibly even a political activist. The carpet is made with naturally dyed yarns, which tells me that the weaver appreciated the aesthetic nature of these traditional dyes and that she preferred them over the new synthetic dyes that were available to her at that time. Knowing this led me to develop a character who was progressive yet grounded in her heritage. I don’t see Anahita as a remarkably modern character for her time. I believe women in every era have had to strike a balance between tradition and change, as change is inevitable. Choosing her own husband was not all that uncommon among nomads of the period. In many aspects they did not adhere to the same practices as those people who were living in cities, whose lives were governed more closely by the mores of the settled and established culture, or perhaps the ways of Islam. We must remember that arranged marriages were something that women in Western cultures, as well as others around the world, also faced in those days.

Q: What do you want readers to learn from Anahita’s experiences?

A: To follow their hearts and minds.

Q: How did you come up with Anahita’s suitors?

A: This is a difficult question to answer. I really don’t know! I believe I had the khan in mind from the outset as the antagonist, as he is central to the plot which launches the tale. I suppose Dariyoush, her tribesmate, was there from the start because the “boy next door” as a romantic interest is a universal notion. The schoolteacher, Reza, evolved out of what I knew about Iranian history, that at one point (although later in time) the government set up tents in which to educate nomads. So I was able to send a teacher/suitor to Anahita’s village. The merchant from Mashhad materialized on his own, and I decided to have him show up for her wedding-riddle contest while I was writing that section of the book. Arash . . . I believe he arose from the poetry of Jalaluddin Rumi that I was reading throughout the writing of the novel. Perhaps he was a gift to me from this spiritual master himself.

Q: What research did you do to make the story authentic?

A: I had been weaving tapestry and studying Middle Eastern carpets for years before I began to write this novel. Part of my research included trips to Turkey in which I visited many carpet shops, spoke with dye masters, and stayed with friends in a village of carpet weavers and rug repairmen. Later, I traveled to Iran, where I was able to visit carpet workshops, as well as experience the landscape itself—feel the aridity in the air, the mountains looming over me, the smell of cypress trees—and experience the barrenness of the deserts. I marveled at the elegance of the architecture, ran my fingers across the intricate, blue mosaic walls of their mosques and bathhouses. I climbed their minarets and heard the lilting, haunting chant of the muezzin’s call to prayer. I also consulted scholars about Iran’s history, classical Persian literature, and nomadic life, which I have explained in more depth in my author’s note.

Q: You have traveled extensively in Iran and the Middle East. What do you value most from the time you spent there?

A: I feel as if I have only scratched the surface of my understanding of Middle Eastern cultures, and hope to live there for extended periods of time in the near future. What I value most are the friendships I have cultivated in Turkey and Iran. From these I have acquired new perspectives. I appreciate knowing there are other ways to live and lead a fulfilling life other than the culture in which I grew up.

Q: What is your writing process?

A: I began writing when I was a new mother, and so my writing process has evolved along with my children’s maturity. At first I wrote when they napped. Later, when they were in school, I wrote during the day. Soon they will all attend college, and I suspect I will have much more free time in which to travel and write. I try to work on manuscripts in the morning when I am fresh and do research, make phone calls, and e-mail in the late afternoon.

Q: What kinds of books do you read when you’re not writing?

A: I read everything: fiction, nonfiction, poetry, journal articles, and newspapers, including those published in other countries (I subscribe to some and bring home others from the places I visit). Most often I delve into the myths, folklore, history, and classical literature of Ireland and of the Middle East. I also like to read translations of modern and contemporary writers from around the world.

Q: You’re an accomplished weaver and dyer. How did you get started, and where did you learn the crafts?

A: About sixteen years ago I moved to eastern Washington, which is quite rural, and began raising my own sheep (as my Irish grandmother did). I learned from a local weaving guild how to spin yarn. After reading a few books about natural dyes used by Native American, Scottish, and Middle Eastern weavers, I experimented on my own. Many of the dye plants grew in my yard; others I collected while hiking locally, or in southern Utah, Ireland, and Turkey, places I often visit. Sarah Swett, an accomplished weaver in Moscow, Idaho, taught me the basics in weaving, and I have trundled along on my own ever since. Although my tapestries are riddled with mistakes, I’ve been told they exude spirit, which is good enough for me. I enjoy the process—working with different textures of fiber and playing with the dyes, whose colors never cease to surprise me in the end.

Q: What message do you want readers to go away with after reading Anahita’s story?

A: I hope that readers will see the beauty that I have discovered in Iranian culture.