by Nakhjavani, Bahiyyih
In a town on the frontiers of Central Asia, an ambitious scribe feverishly dreams of writing his masterpiece. But before he can begin, he must find the perfect paper, a paper unimaginably beautiful, as pure as the mountain snows. It is the high noon of the nineteenth century, and the Shahs, the Sultans and the Tsar are trying to out-check each other with their innumerable treaties and alliances. This is a world of spies and scholars, clerics and quacks, generals and princesses, of thefts, intrigues, miracles and murders. A world where every act is fuelled on paper. For without it, nothing – diplomacy, commerce, art, even love – is possible. But there is a crisis looming. The ancient practice of paper making is in decline, and the European paper – factory made – is scarce and expensive. In the isolated mountain town, which has become the scene of a power struggle, paper is more necessary than ever. How will the Scribe outwit fate to find his own supply? And where will he find the paper of his dreams? It is a quest that sends him from mosque to palace, from citadel to market place, in hot pursuit of straw and rag reams from the past, of wood pulp paper in the present, and finally towards the shimmering pages of the future. Paper is an exquisite allegory, a story about the sources of inspiration, a fable about what glimmers between the words.