This month, I suggested Beth Helms’ book Dervishes because of my trip to Turkey. The novel is set in Ankara during the 1970s and tells the story of 12-year old Canada, her disinterested mother Grace, and her alcoholic father, a U.S. ambassador, who live within the dysfunctional world of American and Canadian diplomatic families. I was hoping the book would have more information about the political and historical situation in Turkey at that time, but it focused solely on the infighting between the various wives of diplomats, who are bored and isolated from the culture either by choice or design; and their children who generally run wild and try to adapt as best they can to frequent moves. The setting reminded me a bit of a Henry James novel, especially Daisy Miller, where the Americans abroad keep to themselves, in a foreign country but not of it — except of course this being a modern novel, the bored housewives have affairs with the local men and fight with each other for lovers and status. In the end the novel was not as good as I hoped — certainly the writing was superb but the ending was rushed and disappointing. It definitely was worth reading though.
Bonus track — while onboard the Almira, I read Snow by Orhan Pamuk. It was an interesting contrast to read about the clash between secularists and political Islamists in the eastern portion of Turkey, while traveling through the very European western region (especially Bodrum which except for the Mosques was pretty similar to other beach towns in southern Europe — a lot of British youngsters clubbing at night, roasting themselves on the beach during the day). I’m also glad I read it in summer, since this is a quite dark and depressing look at the fate of a political exile named Ka who returns from 12 years in Germany to the small town of Kars to investigate a spate of suicides among observant Muslim girls, and to try to win back the love of his life. It was a tough read — lots of intrigue, reversals, and betrayals. I’ll probably have to go and look up the historical events on which it’s based before I fully understand it.
Next up: Wild Nights, a collection of short stories Joyce Carol Oates, in which she imagines the last days of Edgar Allen Poe, Henry James, Emily Dickinson, Samuel Clemens, and Ernest Hemingway. The concept alone is intriguing.