The Rug Merchant
An extraordinary debut by Meg Mullins, THE RUG MERCHANT centers on an Iranian immigrant, Ushman Khan, who sells beautifully crafted rugs to wealthy Americans in New York. His wife Farak continues to live in their hometown of Tabriz where she personally picks out the rugs that will be shipped to America, and Ushman subsequently sells for thousands of dollars a rug.
Ushman and Farak have tried many times to have a child of their own, but Farak had suffered through too many miscarriages, the last one occurring during the big quake in Iran a few years ago. After that, Farak gave up trying. Ushman goes to America to find a better life for them, but instead he finds loneliness and a wife who does not seem to want to be with her husband. She finds excuses not to follow him to America, mainly using his ailing mother as the reason why she must stay in Iran.
Farak finally informs Ushman that she is leaving him, but he cannot accept the news, especially the shocking reasons why she's divorcing him. His life had always revolved around his love for Farak, and he cannot believe that his marriage is over. One night he goes to the airport on a whim and watches the people around him, dreaming of Farak coming off a plane to finally join him in America. Instead, he meets a young woman named Stella, a freshman at Barnard College. Despite their age and cultural differences, this meeting leads up to a rather unusual friendship.
By this time, Ushman's knowledge of America is still very limited, and he is constantly overwhelmed and confused as to what is proper behavior in this country. Stella represents a huge contrast to the type of woman he is familiar with, and in his mind he often compares her to Farak, who he still refers to as his wife. Stella is as free as one her age can be, with ethics and moral standards that are far from what Ushman is used to. Yet he knows he is now in America and is allowed to do things such as look at women who are not covered up from head to toe, and that even a one-night stand is not frowned upon. Ushman is attracted to the free-spirited Stella, who teaches this lonely man what it is like to be an American.
In the meantime, Ushman continues his business of selling exotic rugs, his most frequent customer being the wealthy Mrs. Roberts, whose husband appears to be an invalid. Their relationship is akin to that of master and servant, and Ushman tries his best to behave the way she expects. However, things happen to make him wonder what Mrs. Roberts is really feeling toward him, as she seems to be reaching out to him for more than just a business relationship. While a friendship is far from what is evolving, their behavior around each other hints to a type of association that may diverge from their original business relationship.
As the friendship between Ushman and Stella progress into something serious, Ushman's world begins to change. But he still has Farak in the back of his mind, always reminding him of his past. Things come to a head when a tragic event occurs in Mrs. Roberts's home while Ushman is there doing business, and it becomes another turning point in Ushman's life in America.
THE RUG MERCHANT is a complex tale that focuses more on behavior and feelings than on actual action and events. Meg Mullins does a wonderful job describing the immigrant experience, writing this story with a delicate prose that brings out the sensations of loneliness and that of being an outsider in a foreign land. Ushman's awkwardness and confusion are detailed in exquisite form, and the reader will truly feel embarrassment and maybe even a sense of protectiveness toward this man who wants desperately to live the American dream yet feels out of his element. His love for Farak is near tragic, as he has no control over what is happening with her because she is so far away. By moving to America, he essentially gives up his rights, so to speak, to be her Iranian husband; divorce would never have been permitted if he had remained in his homeland.
Mullins's auspiciously wonderful debut is highly recommended and I anxiously await her next novel.
Reviewed by Marie Hashima Lofton on January 23, 2011
The Rug Merchant
- Publication Date: June 26, 2007
- Genres: Fiction
- Paperback: 272 pages
- Publisher: Penguin (Non-Classics)
- ISBN-10: 0143112090
- ISBN-13: 9780143112099