Twelve year old Maryam is the narrator of this story set in mid-nineteenth Baghdad. One of the unusual characteristics of her family is that the women are not only literate but artistic. Maryam's mother writes poetry, as Maryam says: "when no one is looking". Her grandmother, Mamajan, teaches Maryam to recite the ancient poets, such as Hafiz, and to chant prayers, and to write and tell stories about historical figures. It is the family's version of home schooling.
In the early part of the book Maryam has just learned about the death of her heroine, Tahirih (a real historical figure). Maryam in her sorrow chants this poem, titled "Look up".
"Look up! Our dawning day draws its first breath!
The world grows light! Our souls begin to glow!
No ranting shaykh rules from his pulpit throne
No mosque hawks holiness it does not know.
No sham, no pious fraud, no priest commands!
The turban's knot cut to its root below.
No more conjurations! No spells! No ghosts!
Good riddance! We are done with folly's show!
The search for Truth shall drive out ignorance.
Equality shall strike the despots low
Let warring ways be banished from the world
Let Justice everywhere its carpet throw
May Friendship ancient hatreds reconcile
May love grow from seed of love we sow!"
[Tahirih - A Portrait in Poetry, Selected Poems of Qurratu'l-Ayn, Edited and translated by Amin Banani, Kalimat Press, Los Angeles, 2004]