Posted by: Corri van de Stege | August 31, 2009

Saffron Dreams – Shaila Abdullah

Saffron Dreams

Saffran_crocus_sativus_moistWikipedia’s definition of saffron: ‘Saffron (IPA: [ˈsæf.ɹən] / [ˈsæf.ɹɒn]) is a spice derived from the flower of the saffron crocus (Crocus sativus), a species of crocus in the family Iridaceae. A C. sativus flower bears three stigmas, each the distal end of a carpel. Together with their styles—stalks connecting stigmas to their host plant—stigmas are dried and used in cooking as a seasoning and colouring agent. Saffron, for decades the world’s most expensive spice by weight,[1][2] is native to Southwest Asia.[2][3]


Saffron, crocus veil, the flower with the three red stigmas.  The purple saffron sprouts in the dry summer across the Himalayan valley.  Arissa paints the colours of saffron into an orange sky, the colour Faizan loved, as the cover for the book that he started to write and Arissa has finished, her therapy.

Saffron Dreams

Saffron Dreams by Shaila Abdullah is a novel that reads as if it is a genuine autobiography.  You cannot help but feel that this is the story of someone genuinely caught up in 9/11, an innocent and haphazard victim. 

I think we all remember where we were when we heard the news, I was in my then office, in Nottingham, when a colleague came in and told me that there was this horrendous bit of news of a plane crashing into one of the towers of the World Trade Centre in New York.  And then the disbelief that this was really happening, the horror that people were trapped inside the towers and the planes, and the immediate question ‘why’?

In Saffron Dreams Arissa tells the story of her life as it was in Karachi, then her marriage to Faizan, moving to America only to lose it all, her life and love, when the twin towers are struck by the two planes, killing Faizan who works in one of the restaurants, earning a living while writing his book. 

The story flits back and forth like the weaving of a carpet, slowly the patterns emerge, the full picture and Shaila Abdullah does this so well that you want to read on, find out who and what Arissa is all about, how she copes with so much grief and upset. 

Arissa’s life as she imagined it to be is destroyed by the planes, yet, because of who she is and what she looks like she is frequently accosted by people around her as being an accomplice, because of the colour of her skin and because of wearing a veil. She decided to do away with the veil, and works through her loss.  As she says, her ‘journey spans half a decade, from the biggest loss of my life to where I am now….a tale of grief and happiness, of control and losing control, of barriers and openings.’

Arissa paints, gives birth to their severely disabled son, suffers attacks from people around her and through sheer willpower survives.

I am very impressed by this book, even if at times it almost tries too hard, with sentences that border on being too literary, too beautiful, it always pulls through as genuine.  I enjoyed the way this story weaves back and forth, filling bits of the canvas until at the very end of the book you have worked through it all with Arissa, have come to terms.  It also reminds us that whether moslem, christian, non-believers or whatever, all were caught up in this and there was no pity for any of the victims, whatever their religion or background story.

In addition, Shaila Abdullah tells me that she is currently on a book fundraiser to help children in Africa and Asia and that proceeds from the sales of her book will go to an international development agency, the Aga Khan Foundation USA.  I have agreed to support this and add the following to my review:

Buy a Book, Support a Cause

African family

According to the World Bank, the current global crisis has pushed 90 million people into poverty and is slated to have a disastrous impact on health and education projects in the developing world unless the rich nations begin aiding the poor. From now until September 15, 2009, if you buy a copy of Saffron Dreams using the link below, proceeds from the sale will go to the Aga Khan Foundation U.S.A., a renowned international development organization. The organization develops and promotes creative solutions to address problems that impede development, primarily in Asia and Africa.

Hailed as “highly recommended” by Library Journal and many other critics, Saffron Dreams by Shaila Abdullah, is a memorial to the victims of 9/11, a source of strength for the survivors, and a vehicle of understanding for those struggling to make sense of the conflict between the East and West. Saffron Dreams is offered at a discounted rate of $16.95 (reg. $19.95) for the duration of this event.  Buy a few copies for friends, family members, and coworkers and support this great cause.
Buy Saffron Dreams now




  1. Several considerations:

    1. I know how much it costs to grow saffron and how much land it is needed and how much labour it is needed to grow it. I can assure you that the price you are charged at the shops may not compensate the growers although it may the sellers.

    2.Women wearing a veil was something usual in the West. Obliged by the Catholic Church old pictures of Spain’s streets were full up with women wearing head covers or veils. Now the West criticises Muslims for doing so.

    3. Yes The Twin Towers events killed people without any distinction of sex, race or religion. Death has no distinctions for these conditions, neither birth does. It is the human beings who bring up the problem.

    4. Funny that the new poor belong to the West, because the others – those in the Third World – keep being poor since times immemorial, nobody yet has found a solution to their problem and now much less. The former may find a solution, the latter most sure never will.

    5. Thanks, Seachanges, for sharing this.

  2. Thanks for a great review. I do appreciate it.

    Shaila Abdullah

  3. This sounds like a wonderful book. I am not buying new books right now but will see if my library as it.

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