Arriving in 2021!
Two men fall in love with a girl.
Then she becomes a woman.
Sixteen-year old Saffron Hunter can handle herself on the streets of Detroit.
Raised by a no-nonsense nurse and a doting grandfather, Saffron's dorky glasses, drab rags and middle-school hair hide a quick-thinking, highly perceptive girl. Saffron believes books are better than boys, so it's just dumb luck that one summer afternoon she ends up in a park sharing a joint with a bunch of kids...until one boy goes too far.
What happens that afternoon intrigues Ishmael, the weed man whose past brought him from an orphanage in Kenya to the wealthiest enclaves of Detroit. Mysterious, moody, and unpredictable, Ishmael sets his sights on Saffron and slowly works his way into the girl's heart, even managing to gain the approval of her mother. Saffron and Ishmael begin an intensely erotic affair, buoyed by alcohol and drugs. Their afternoon trysts, however, mean one thing to the man, but something completely different to the girl, who desperately tries, and painfully fails to win his love.
By her 19th birthday, the streetwise ostrich has grown into a guarded, but beautiful swan.
Excited by her first job and the freedom of the hot summer nights, Saffron encounters Tristan, the auburn-haired bartender in a local downtown dive. Determined to protect herself from ever being hurt again, Saffron struggles against the fire the strangely engaging, secretly gifted musician ignites in her heart. Once she enters Tristan's lair in a renovated factory in the heart of the city, Saffron is lost: never had she dreamed of such a sense of safety, instinctual understanding, and passionate devotion from anyone, much less a man whose background is so different from her own.
Shunned by the outside world, Saffron and Tristan slowly build a private universe. Their relationship deepens with each passing day...until Saffron begins to uncover devastating lies and half-told truths about both Tristan and Ishmael, whose chance reappearance sets a bitter rivalry in motion that disrupts all their lives for years to come.
Saffron will one day have a choice between a man who promises her wealth and prominence, and another, who is still searching for the courage to love her. Over the course of her journey she will know the loneliness of separation and the agonizing challenge of forgiveness—while she struggles to carve out her own unique place in the world.
The author of novels exploring racism, addiction, intimate partner violence and human trafficking, in Saffron Bloom Heather Neff has composed a sweeping tale about the long and labyrinthine path to deep and enduring love.
An Interview with Heather Neff
After novels about human trafficking, intimate partner violence and addiction, what did you hope to achieve with Saffron Bloom?
Saffron Bloom began on January 3, 2019, a very dark winter's night, and a few days before the publication of Blissfield. I had worked on Blissfield for several years, and I was experiencing the period of "mourning" that always accompanies the publication of a book, when I have to separate myself from the characters. I'd been extremely close to Bethany, Gideon, and in particular, Nina, and I was having a hard time saying goodbye.
My intention was to follow Blissfield with a love story. I wanted to create a text filled with sunlight, joy, and immeasurable love. Blissfield had taken me to cold, painful, silent places, and I was committed to writing a novel that soared into a kind of stratosphere of pure pleasure.
The initial draft of Saffron Bloom literally threw itself on the page. Within three months the initial "story" was written, and I thought I'd have a completed, edited, ready-to-share book by the end of the summer. Then life intervened, and I suddenly found that the book that I believed to be finished had hardly begun.
You mean you went back and changed a lot?
I mean that the characters began to emerge only after I thought their lives were neat and complete. Tristan had been "perfect" in every way. Ishmael had been a sensuous, compelling mystery man. Saffron herself simply fell in love with both men and stayed in love, until...
The more I wrote, the more densely complicated the characters' lives became. Tristan's past intervened. Ishmael's truth was revealed. And Saffron kept growing. Her relationships with her family, colleagues, friends and lovers shifted. I enjoyed who she was becoming, so I let the book move toward its natural conclusion, though even the conclusion shifted and shimmered. Still, Saffron Bloom is a love story. Or maybe it's several love stories.
You've set many of your stories overseas. Why does this novel primarily take place in Detroit?
Saffron Bloom is set at the close of the last century, when Detroit was beginning to recover from the aftermath of civil unrest, and the nation was poised on the brink of the computer era. The city was a tableau of great art, jazz, food, and peoples from many nations. It was also a city of wonderful intersections between people working in the trades, the expanding medical center, the international food market and a world-class university. What a great place to write about!
Why did you choose to name your main character 'Saffron'?
Saffron's name ties her to her absent father, even as it distances her from other people, including herself. I am a firm believer that we all grow and change, adopting many identities and iterations as we go through life. This is a natural response to the challenges we face. The creature best suited to its environment is most likely to survive, and I am particularly dedicated to the survival of my female characters. Saffron's ambivalence toward her name is a component of her journey toward strength, independence, and above all, self-determination.
Many of your characters have struggled to overcome their past in order to find peace. Is that true in this book, as well?
Few of us are able to understand how deeply our families, childhood communities, educational background, and cultural practices play a role in our identities. Some of my characters have internalized a great deal of trauma and make adult decisions without a real grasp on how their past experiences drive their behavior. I think Chloe Emmanuel, from Blackgammon, Abel Crofton, the main character in Haarlem, and of course, Blissfield's Bethany Castle, are the best examples of this. Other characters have greater awareness of the hurt they carry, for example, Accident of Birth's Reba Freeman, Wisdom's Maia Ransom and Leila, from The Weighted Silence of Memory and The Moods of the Sea. Leila understands precisely how she became enslaved, but believes herself powerless to change her circumstances. The three central characters of Saffron Bloom are all blessed with self-awareness, but each must grow a great deal as individuals before they are truly ready to give and receive love.
Did you enjoy writing this book?
This book has been a lifeline during the most difficult periods of my life. These characters have taken good care of me and seen me through. I hope readers will find the plain and simple love stories beneath their turmoil. Perhaps plain and simple love stories are the way we've all navigated the world's turmoil over these recent months. I hope readers find joy in Saffron Bloom.
Cover art by Heather Neff