Sunday, February 19, 2006

BOOK: "The Root of Wild Madder," by Brian Murphy (Simon & Schuster, $25)

TARGET AUDIENCE: You, my friend. For you I have something special.

To answer the inevitable, punning question, "What's the 'madder'?" It's a plant long used to make red dye (it's how the British "red coats" got that way, for instance). It also represents traditional Iranian rug making at its essence: millions of hand-tied knots, and natural dyes from leaves, peelings and roots. Murphy tells a complex narrative involving child labor (tiny fingers mean finer knots), politics, war, dogfights and Sufi mysticism. Grand images in the rugs are matched with stark images from the land; for example, a young Afghan refugee dying of dysentery on a simple rug, the last possession of her distraught family.

Also woven into the fabric of his story are the poems of Hafez, whose 14th-century verses serve today "as a counterweight to the chiefly one-dimensional rule of religious conservatives." And lots and lots of bargaining: "Forget the price, what does your heart say?"

-- Jerry V. Haines

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