In the Strandja Mountains, where Bulgaria, Turkey, and Greece come together, a young graduate student, who left Bulgaria for the United States as a boy, reconnects with his grandfather, from whom the family has heard nothing for the past three years. Unsuccessful in his college studies and desperately in need of funds to pay off some loans, the youth has come to Klisura in southeast Bulgaria hoping to sell some family land and also to spend time with the grandfather he has not seen in fifteen years. Written by debut novelist Miroslav Penkov, who lived in Bulgaria until he was nineteen, the narrative breathes with the kind of exuberant realism which distinguishes the writing of someone who has actually lived through certain events, as opposed to the writing of someone who is “writing about” events which he may have observed but not fully lived. Specific, often charming, detail accompanies the descriptions of many events and cultural traditions, giving a new kind of liveliness to the story of the youth’s return to his homeland and to his meetings with the people who live there. Among them are the nestinari, men and women, often quite young, of priestly importance, who walk on red-hot coals without being burned during the once-a year religious celebration. The overwhelming presence of storks in the spring and summer also adds to the spiritual tone of everyday life in Klisura. An unusual – possibly unique – combination of coming-of-age novel and epic of Bulgarian history and culture, the narrative has the small focus of a young man with limited goals and the grand scope of a culture which has incorporated elements from its Christian, Muslim, and even pagan past over many centuries.
Category Archive for 'Turkey'
When the son of Paul Hackett, an American, hears that he is the heir and currrent Byzantine emperor in exile, he is stunned, unable to imagine how these circumstances have evolved. He has lived with his mother’s family in Turkey ever since his parents divorced when he was two, and he has shared the name of his Turkish grandfather, ever since. Telling his own story, the speaker is now a successful businessman in his early thirties. An economist schooled at Columbia in New York and at the London School of Economics, he loves research and writing, and he is intrigued by the prospect of investigating the baffling announcement that he is truly the latest emperor-in-exile. Long fascinated by the history of the Byzantine Empire, which lasted for over eleven hundred years before being finally defeated by the Ottoman Turks in 1453, the speaker is anxious to investigate further. This unusual novel defies genre. The story as described above, resembles a fantasy, providing a framework for this novel, but it represents only a small part of the actual text. It is also a “quest story.” The speaker’s travels, typical of a quest, do not involve hardship, financial or otherwise, and this is not a travel narrative in which a main character faces dangerous obstacles as he travels to exotic places around the globe. Detailed information about the order of the emperors and how they ascended to their thrones, the people they killed (and often blinded), and how they themselves died sometimes make the novel sound like a complex history book, however. The term “Byzantine intrigue” takes on new meaning as the stories of the emperors unfold.
The emotional intensity of the ancient hatreds and violence between Turks and Kurds, the origins of which may not even be clear to the participants, is vividly illuminated by this novel by Yasar Kemal, a Turk with Kurdish origins. Set in the 20th century, a fact made clear only because cars and tractors are mentioned once or twice, this novel feels as if it could have been set almost any time over the past 2000 years. Kurds, Armenians, Yedizis, Turkomans, and even Bedouins inhabit the area between Turkey and Iraq, just after the fall of the Ottoman Empire. Time here is not linear, nor is the novel itself, spiraling instead through generations, forced exilings, attempts to settle down, unconscionable atrocities, and rises and falls in fortune.
Turkish author Orhan Pamuk’s latest novel soars to new heights, taking fiction itself to an exhilarating new level and blurring the lines between fiction and reality in new ways. Ostensibly the obsessive love story of Kemal Basmaci, age thirty, for a beautiful shop-girl named Fusun, eighteen, the novel explores much more than that, examining not only the physical passion which underlies their relationship and their lives, but also broader themes involving the connections between love and memory, between memory and reality, and between love and reality. Including metafictional elements in the telling of Kemal’s story, Pamuk himself participates in the story as both a fictional and a real character, adding another level to the story. In a unique tour de force, the author is now creating a (real) Museum of Innocence in Istanbul, located in the house in which Fusun and her fictional family “lived.” In essence, we have author Pamuk creating a fictional story about fictional people, whose real house and the objects in it (described fully in the fictional story) become a real physical memorial to the fictional characters in the love story which Kemal has “asked” Pamuk to write for him.
Although most people know that World War I began in 1914, far fewer know that while that war was being fought in Europe, a million Armenians were being exterminated by the Turks. In a series of massacres over a period of more than twenty years, most notably between 1894 and 1915, the Armenians were forced from their land, marched across barren plains under deplorable conditions, and subjected to depredations from which death was often a merciful release. Author Judith Mitchell seizes on the fact that many Armenian-Americans fought in the war in Europe but were also committed to making Turkey pay for its crimes against their families and culture. She creates a fascinating plot which brings to life the efforts by Armenians in Europe and America to address the wrongs done to them by bringing the Turkish leaders of the massacres to justice, either legal or ad hoc.