COLUMN - BOOK REVIEW - THINKING OTHERWISE - ON TURKEY: Anatolian Days and Nights
When the average American thinks of the land of Turkey, his or her perceptions have been influenced by movies like Lawrence of Arabia and Midnight Express to see the land as a place of cruelty and ignorance. For the more educated, the images may be of Tamerlane sacking Baghdad, or of Victorian paintings of Turks auctioning naked white women captured by Turkish pirates and then being sold in the slave market. Or they may think of Delacroix’s painting “The Massacre of Chios” and have thoughts of Lord Byron dying while fighting the Turk in defense of Western Civilization. (Pre-Ataturk Turkey was the country that fired canons at the Parthenon.) It is now, thanks to Ataturk, a modern republic, but still is a land where it is a crime to shame the country with criticism or question official government versions of history. Writers like Orhan Pamuk are persecuted for shaming Turkey even as they bring international respect to their homeland. Teaching evolution is banned, wives are locked up in their homes and ruled by their husbands, and history is rewritten to erase the Armenian massacres. The reason Sun-Maid packages their apricots as “Mediterranean” is from fear that Americans would not buy them if they were labeled “Turkish.”
Two American women, Angie Brenner and Joy Stocke, in an act of what Dulce Murphy of Esalen Institute termed “citizen diplomacy,” have decided to take it on themselves to throw a different light on Turkish humanity to dispel these dark misperceptions of the people themselves. Anatolian Days and Nights is presented as a travel book, but it is really a collection of interesting and interlocked short stories that show the kindness and humanity of an ancient people living in an even more ancient land. It is a delight to travel with these two free spirits in a skillful narrative in which we do become interested in the people and the culture, but also, somewhere along the road, find we are as interested in the minds and lively spirits of these two extraordinary women as the people they seek to rescue from our prejudices. The book would make a good female buddies on the road film--an updated Thelma and Louise without the tragic ending of their car soaring over the cliff.
And here I am not thinking of a Hollywood film that would demand script changes to insert the necessary cop car chases, exploding smuggling oil tankers coming out of Iraq, and our dynamic duo pursued by a band of Islamic fundamentalists. And, of course, Hollywood would require some R rated scenes in which Angie the petite hottie opens up about what really went on off camera with Habib. Let’s see: Hmm. I guess I would cast the tall German-Swedish Uma Thurman for the role of Joy Stocke and Angelina Jolie for Angie Brenner.
No, I am not thinking of a Hollywood formula film for thirteen-year olds, but a grown-up film—the kind the Canadians and the French make—one about human relationships and perceptions.
But more than buddies, these two women strike me as avatars of the new era of women and the end of patriarchy. Yes, I know, the abuse of women in the traditional cultures and religions all around the world is still going on with increased force, but remember that a star gives out more light in its death than in its life. Fundamentalism of all kinds—capitalist with the Koch Brothers in Kansas or Islamist with Al Qaeda in Pakistan—give signs that the members of these cultures are scared and fighting hysterically to deny the end of their time.
Carrie Nation carried an axe to chop up the bars of the drunken men of a working class patriarchy—those street angels and house devils who squandered their money on drink rather than using it to support their families. And that is exactly what my Scots-Irish father did. It was my strong mother who held the family together, and when she got tired of the abuse from Dad, decided not to deny life any longer but to have an affair with her doctor, the only one who understood her and to whom she could talk and he would listen. In midlife she had just enough of being punched in the mouth by a drunkard who liked to buy his bar cronies free drinks, and then come home to dribble the remains on the table and expect her to pay the rent and feed the kids.
My mother moved out of the Rick Santorum Catholicism of Irish Chicago in which the priest told her it was God’s will that she suffer as Christ had suffered on the cross for her. In the sunlight of Southern California, the dreary world of Chicago—freezing in the winter and unbreathably humid and hot in the summers--could no longer contain her. She became a free spirit far back in the 1950s--long before the generation of Angie Brenner and Joy Stocke.
The authors of Anatolian Days and Nights strike me as joyous pilgrim souls singing on the road to the Emerald City, where there is no carnival wizard behind the curtain, but a more enlightened culture for women, and for the men who learn how to love them for their minds as well as their bodies.