Our resident reviewer has returned from glorious foreign campaigns,
amply adorned with battle ribbons -- and she's
sharpened her keen eye, too. Join us as she shares her views
about this Settle Classic
"The Turkish that I speak is direct
like a child's. I call it, honoring Casablanca,
"such much" Turkish. So this language, with it's echoes
of nomads and emperors, pashas and ghazis, sultans and riches,
and country matters, with it's verbs of more than forty tenses,
including the very useful one for innuendo that I wish we had,
its oblique politenesses, this language with its own poetry of
front- and back-rhyming vowels, this old tongue that contains
within it all the past of Anatolia, is for me, a shorthand. I
get along, though. Turks are very polite people."
Mary Lee Settle
The first time I read this book was soon after it came out, in 1991. I was fascinated by Turkey, and in fact, was thinking to move here. At that time, on the whole, it impressed me as being a really good travel book. But then, as happens, I laid it aside -- and nearly forgot about it.
Six years later, after having lived in Turkey
for four of those years, I picked it up again and
was completely hooked.
This book is so much more than a travel book.
It is a wonderful journal filled with anecdotes
and character descriptions. At times it paints terrific
word pictures and other times soars into poetry.
Ms. Settle does more than just look at the surface of whatever
she is describing, she digs deep under
the skin to show you what the country's heart is like.
Ms. Settle lived in Turkey from 1972 to 1974.
She nostalgically returned in 1989,
and set out to find the "real" Turkey. And what things,
what things she found!
Travelling from one end of the country to the other, she looked for and discovered a Turkey of history and of people and of civilizations. There were some disappointments, particularly in Bodrum, which had been a sleepy little jewel of a town in the early 70's, and which by 1989 had become a vulgar tourist trap. But overall, she found the people had remained constant in their warmth, hospitality, courtesy and humor.
Driving, however, hasn't changed an iota,
and is as terrible as it always was --
even worse, because there are more cars.
Click the icon below
to get a first hand account of what
driving in Turkey is really like!
To this reviewer's mind, Turkey has changed again, from 1989 to
1998... and yet I see that it has remained the same as well.
Take the language, for instance
As I read Reflections this time, I realized it was
also about the Turkish Language. Not like a grammar or a book
for study, but a book of words and phrases. Arkadas friend,
salvar baggy trousers, lokanta
lute, davul drum,
aslan lion, pazar open
market, simit Turkish 'bagel'...
all words (used and defined in the context of the
sentence) that are evocative of the essence of this country.
Ms. Settle also talks about the Turkish verb tenses for inference, doubt, rumour and innuendo -- and how they are used in daily life (the perfect tenses for gossip or politics !) .
to learn more about
this uniquely Turkish verb usage.
Then too there were the little language moments she experienced
-- like being at the Blue Mosque, in Istanbul and listening to
the poets declaim "their stories in the mis tense --
bir varmis, bir yokmis, maybe it happened, maybe it
to see a sample conjugation
of a 'mis' tense verb.
And later, in the heart of Ankara when she met up with some children:
"There the welcoming children found
us and began their chant 'Alman?'
(Are you German?) My answer was the
final answer of the Turks, 'Yok' (No).
They followed calling out 'Fransiz?'(Are
you French?) I said "Dün
aksam aydan geldim" (Last
night I came from the moon). Instead
of stopping them they were delighted, and when a new little girl
ran up to see what all the laughter was, I heard her friend say
to her "Aydan gelmis"
which, translated, with all the spirit of Byzantine intrigue,
means, "She says she comes from
the moon, she thinks she comes from the moon, or maybe she does
come from the moon."
I love that passage, because the language
really does express so much about the
Turkish people. Sometimes
because of the ambiguity of their language
it leads to polite misunderstandings.
This may require you to spend time in the
dance of conversation going around and around your subject
to make sure you clarify exactly what
it is you're trying to say. At the end of all those words you
recognize that you have formed a bond
with the person. You may still not be saying
what you want to say (or understanding
what they mean), but ultimately it
doesn't matter. The adventure is in the conversation.
This book covers so much about Turkey. It talks about Cyprus
and Armenia, Islam
and Turkey's relationship with the West.
It covers the problems with a clear, but
loving eye. At
the end of the book, as with any good biography, you feel
like you know the subject a little
better. But you also realize that there's more
to learn and you regret the book coming to an end. And
the closing words she offers, are a fine postscript
to any fond memory, "Iyi
arkadasim, my good friend..."