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LPT Symbol Reviews of Best Books about Turkish (and Turkey)

Is there anything more riveting than a scandalous tell-all book review...?
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Books in Review
Turkish Reflections...
An Elementary Turkish Language Text...
Turkish Food, Good Eats...
Culture Shock...
Harem Nights...
Istanbul Guide (with shiny pages)...
Language Learner...
Turkey -- Lonely Planet travel...
Ancient Civilizations and Ruins...

Turkish Reflections

by Mary Lee Settle

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.

Reviewer's Note:
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 restaurant, saz 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 !) .

Click on the icon below
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 didn't."

Click on the icon below
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..."
JS (January 1998)

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