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#Bookreview Under the Shadow. Rage and Revolution in Modern Turkey by Kaya Genç (@kayagenc). Diverse voices skilfully captured and more relevant than ever

Hi all:

Today a fascinating non-fiction book. I must confess I did not know much about Turkey before I read this book but nonetheless I could not put it down.

Under the Shadow by Kaya Genç
Under the Shadow by Kaya Genç

Under the Shadow. Rage and Revolution in Modern Turkey by Kaya Genç.

Description

Turkey was split in two long before the attempted coup.
Acclaimed writer takes to Istanbul’s streets to find out why.

Turkey stands at the crossroads of world politics: caught between the West and the Middle East; bordering Syria and the frontiers of ISIS; excluded from the EU and governed by an increasingly hard-line leader. Recent events – both the failed military coup and Erdogan’s subsequent nationwide crackdown – have propelled this young democracy into a new chapter of turbulence.

Since the Gezi Park protests of 2013, Turkish journalist and author Kaya Genç has met and interviewed activists from across the political spectrum, from censored journalists to state propaganda writers. Weaving Ottoman history and mythology together with their stories, he gets to the heart of the fractious history and political division that is defining 21st century Turkey, skillfully showing how the ideological cracks permeating its society run deeper than previously thought.

Kaya Genç is an acclaimed writer whose work has appeared in the Guardian, FT, London Review of Books, Salon, Guernica Magazine, Prospect, TLS, The Millions and the New York Times among others. He is the Istanbul correspondent of The Believer and the LA Review of Books. His article ‘Surviving the Black Sea’ was selected as one of best non-fiction pieces of 2014 by The Atlantic. 

Advance Praise

‘Kaya Genç’s writing is as evocative as it is charming’
Elif Shafak, author of The Architect’s Apprentice and Honour

‘Kaya Genç is one of the most interesting Turkish writers to have emerged in recent years. He converses across borders while forging his own distinct voice and perspective and challenging dominant narratives.’
– Maureen Freely, President of PEN and translator of Orhan Pamuk

‘Kaya Genc, a wonderful writer and tireless champion of literature, has done us all a great service by bringing together so many young voices on the Gezi movement’
– Elif Batuman, Staff Writer, The New Yorker

Links

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1784534579/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/1784534579/

Author Kaya Genç
Author Kaya Genç

About the author:

Kaya Genç

Kaya Genç is a novelist and essayist from Istanbul. L’Avventura (Macera), his first novel, was published in 2008. He has a PhD in English literature. He is currently working on his second novel. He blogs at

http://www.kayagenc.net/

 

My review:

Thanks to Net Galley and to I.B. Tauris for offering me a free ARC copy of the book that I freely choose to review.

This is the first book by Kaya Genç I’ve read, and I hope it won’t be the last. He does a great job of collecting testimonies of many youths, from different social classes, religious backgrounds and political beliefs, and presenting a balanced account of the different points of views and how the interviewees developed their stance and thoughts. It is clear that the author is a great communicator, in sync with his subjects, and understands them well. He is also skilled at capturing the nuances and peculiarities of the youths he interviews, whose voices come across clear and distinctive.

The author does not take sides (if there’s such a thing as sides), but he provides his reflections on Turkey and Istanbul itself, in a language that is nostalgic and poetic at times. He does draw historical parallels (also mentioned by several of the participants) with previous movements in Turkey and in the introduction mentions recent events (that are not discussed in the body of the book, as it looks mostly at the period between 2013 and 2015). It is difficult to read the book and not to think about the historical moment we live in, and some of the comments made throughout the book (about the role of public protests in democracies, about banning headscarves and outward religious symbols, about imprisoning journalists and the influence of social media) are as relevant to the situation in other countries as they are to Turkey’s.

A couple of examples of some of the sentences that made me think:

Now, as cries for an east-west war echo throughout the world, I am afraid of the world turning into a place like Turkey, governed almost permanently by martial law.

**********

Once he concludes his story, Fettahoğlu seems calmer. ‘What I just told you about is not the result of politicization’, he says. ‘It is the result of a sort of void. People are radicalized and they act like hooligans. Politicization should be an intellectual process… To hate the other side’, Fettahoğlu says, ‘is not, cannot be, politicization. No.’ A final pause. ‘It is only hatred of ignorance.’

I enjoyed, in particular, the different voices and individual accounts, like glimpses into the young men and women’s lives, the clear links between the personal and the political (the book is about political ideas but mostly about people, who sometimes reach similar conclusions or feel similarly about certain issues even if they come at them from different political positions and outlooks are very different), the passion and the determination and the touching moments shared too (a mother who didn’t like her daughter’s political ideas sharing a picture of her signed book on Facebook, a young man surprised on seeing his father cry when he hears about the death of a journalist…)

I am not an expert in Turkish politics or history and enjoyed enormously the book, which is skilfully and beautifully written, and I’d recommend this book to anybody who has even a passing interest in the subject. I also look forward to reading more works by the author (and I’m very intrigued by his novels. I’ll be on the lookout).

Thanks to NetGalley, I.B. Tauris and the author, thanks to all of you for reading, and please, like, share, comment, CLICK and REVIEW!

Categories
Book reviews New books

#Bookreviews THE ART OF EXILE. A VAGABOND LIFE by John Freely (@ibtauris) An Extraordinary Life Dedicated to Knowledge, Travel and Writing

Hi all:

As you know on Fridays I share new books and writers (today more than usual, but it’s a busy month). John Freely is not a new writer, far from it, but this is the first book I read by him and I expect now that I’ve discovered him, it won’t be the last one. In case you want to check a bit about him, you can check in Wikipedia or all his books (so far) in Amazon.

The Art of Exile. A Vagabond Life by Dr John Freely
The Art of Exile. A Vagabond Life by Dr John Freely

The Art of Exile. A Vagabond Life. By John Freely

As you set out for Ithaka Hope your road is a long one, full of adventure, full of discovery… ‘ Constantine P. Cavafy. By the time he was six, John Freely had crossed the Atlantic four times. His childhood was spent on the mean streets of 1930s Brooklyn, where he scavenged for junk to sell and borrowed money for books; his first love being Homer’s Odyssey. He was 15 when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor and 17 when he enlisted in the US Navy and embarked on the first great adventure of his life: joining a clandestine unit that helped the Kuomintang fight the Japanese. He served for two years, 96 days in combat and a total of 344 days overseas, which sparked a lifelong passion for travel. Returning home after the war, Freely fell in love with a beautiful girl who sang the blues. His own Penelope. Together they signed a blood pact to spend their life travelling the world. This unforgettable memoir takes the reader from the streets of New York to the corridors of provincial campus life; from World War II in the Pacific to the shores of the Bosphorus and from Ancient Troy to the isles of Dionysus and Ariadne. It is the story of a remarkable odyssey that has spanned nine decades, several continents and one great love. And still the odyssey continues, “as I ponder the meaning of an Ithaka and of exile as an art that takes a lifetime to master.”

Description

John Freely is a renowned travel writer and, as the first to popularise the history of Turkey and the Ottoman Empire for a general audience, he is one of our last great globe-trotting storytellers. After returning home from WW2 aged just 19, he fell in love with a beautiful girl who sang the blues. His own Penelope. Together they signed a blood pact to spend their life travelling the world.

This unforgettable memoir takes the reader from the streets of New York to the corridors of provincial campus life; from World War II in the Pacific to the shores of the Bosphorus and from Ancient Troy to the isles of Dionysus and Ariadne. It is the story of a remarkable odyssey that has spanned nine decades, several continents and one great love.

Advance Praise

“Imagine Zorba the Greek as a wandering Irishman from Brooklyn and you have the beginnings of John Freely. His odyssey has been a wild ride across continents, a microcosm of modern history. Freely is a born storyteller and an expert on everything from mysticism to physics to the back streets of Athens, Istanbul and Venice. The only danger of reading this book is envy for such a dazzling life.” – Stephen Kinzer

“John Freely provides a wonderful portrait of Istanbul and Athens in their bohemian heyday” – Philip Mansel
My review

Thanks to Net Galley and to I.B.Tauris for offering me a copy of this book in exchange for an unbiased review.

I wish (like many of us) I was more of a traveller, but when I received an e-mail about this book, a memoir of sorts of John Freely, I was interested for many reasons. Although I hadn’t read his books, I’m always interested in books about writers (professional deformation, I guess). He’s written extensively about travelling, and as I said before I have a long list of places I’d love to visit, among them many Dr Freely has written about (and I’m always happy to be inspired and encouraged to take up more travel). And the title of the book, ‘the art of exile’ appealed to me because I’ve lived away from my own country for many years and I always feel an affinity for those in similar circumstances, even when their lives and mine couldn’t be more different.

John Freely has written many travel books, although as I understand from his own and others’ descriptions, they are not your standard travel book, but rather investigations and reflections about culture, architecture, literature, music, and he has researched extensively the topics of Istanbul, Greece, Physics, classical history, literature… He is a true polymath, a born lecturer and teacher, and knowledge pours out of every page.

Freely structures the book as an autobiography, and I found the story of his upbringing very touching, as it reflected that of many emigrants from Ireland (but not exclusively) who sailed away searching for a better life elsewhere. History has a way of changing settings and actors but it does indeed repeat itself, as we can see in the continued story of both emigrants and refugees that carries on to the present.

The author doesn’t dwell too much on the difficult circumstances of his childhood and family, lack of money, working as a child and living hand-to-mouth. That was how things were at the time and he was expected to live with it and did the best he could. He went to war when he was only 17 after dropping out of high school, and that was the beginning of a life of travelling. Even in those circumstances he loved books and reading (he had studied with fascination a book about the wonders of the world his grandfather had brought back to Ireland from the Crimean War as a young boy) and he educated himself by reading a catalogue of recommended lectures a military priest gave him whilst traveling to China. Mr Freely is a connector and communicator who made (and I’m sure still makes) friends everywhere he went and was lucky to get and take good advice. He decided to follow some such advice and took advantage of the GI bill; he studied Physics and he did well, as he reflects upon, with surprise, a few times throughout his life. His love for knowledge and his thirst for travelling combined into a lifelong journey and he found a more than willing partner in his wife, Toots.

Although he does not talk in detail about such things as feelings, it’s not difficult to read between the lines and sometimes he says more when he doesn’t elaborate on topics that when he does (his muted comments about his son’s difficulties are an example). His vignettes of early married life and his love for his wife come through loud and clear.

Once the couple move to Istanbul and Dr Freely starts his international teaching career the book becomes a catalogue of trips, not in detail but mostly as itineraries, interspersed with references to his career moves and to his published books. There are brief moments of lyrical descriptions that hint at wonders to be had in the full books, and he ponders upon those moments when they were the only western travellers in some of the locations and they could feel history at its fullest. He quotes the classics and is happy to share the experiences and moments he lived with his friends and collaborators, always giving credit where credit is due. He talks with warmth and affection of the institutions he’s worked in and is always grateful and happy to mention others’ achievements. I could not follow all the itineraries in detail and didn’t always know who everybody was, although it didn’t seem that important. I’m convinced the book would be a great read for those familiar with his work or interested in it that would be able to provide the background and fit all the pieces of the puzzle in, but it would also work well as an introduction to the topic of his books and his life.

There are moments that will feel familiar, easy to connect with and will touch everybody, like his visits to Ireland, back to the old family home, the autobiographical details of life in Ireland and old New York when he was a young man, and the latter part of the book, when his wife becomes ill and dies and he has to carry on the journey alone (not a spoiler as it’s not that kind of story).

I thought I’d share some of his comments towards the end of the book, which I must admit had me in tears (as by then I’d become another exile and vagabond with them). He is talking here about writing this book:

When the book on Homer was finished I began working in earnest on the story of our own odyssey, The Art of Exile, particularly after I looked at a photograph of Toots taken on her 80th birthday, when the sight of her wearing a Byzantine tiara reminded me once again that she was in fact my queen, though I’d had no kingdom to offer her, just a lifelong journey.

Now I have become my own Homer, composing the story of a life perpetually on the move, always an exile…

I’m not sure this is a book for everybody, as it’s full of brief descriptions, names, quotes, dates, and travels, although some parts of it would be enjoyed by most people. Personally, I’d love to go for a walk through Istanbul, Naxos, or anywhere with Dr Freely as a guide, telling me all he knows about the many places he’s visited, and with classical references thrown in too. As I don’t think that’s likely to happen, this book provides a good substitute, and has encouraged me to look into his other books.

And here, I share Dr Feely’s quote of the Odyssey that is perfect for the book.

As you set out for Ithaka

Hope your road is a long one,

full of adventure, full of discovery…

May there be many summer mornings,

when, with what pleasure, what joy,

you enter harbours you’re seeing for the

first time… But don’t hurry the journey,

at all,

Better if it lasts for many years.

So you’re old when you reach the island

… Ithaka gave you the marvellous

journey.

Without her you wouldn’t have set out.

Link:

The book is currently available in hardback copy here (I’m sure it will be published in other formats soon):

https://www.amazon.com/Art-Exile-Vagabond-Life/dp/1784534986/

I read an e-version of the book so I cannot comment on the possible differences between the versions, although being familiar with I. B. Tauris and their work I’m sure it won’t disappoint.

Thanks to I.B. Tauris and John Freely for sharing this journey with us, thanks to you all for reading and please, like, share, comment and CLICK!

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