First of all, I picked this up mainly because it looked like a nice easy read (200 pages). However, its subject matter is what kept my attention. It is very rare to see foreign authors writing about Turkish history; especially that most delicate of eras, the fantastic and almost impossible phoenix-like regeneration that transformed a country reduced to a sultanate stagnating in an atmosphere of slothful religious decadence, to a powerful new state, with a government free from the trappings of arabic laws.
Ghata, who identifies herself as French, did not try to hide her distaste of this change in history. At almost every turn, her characters despise the regime changes that saved a country from a most humiliating downfall.
Rikkat, as a character does not think like a Turkish woman. In fact, she hates the new state of her country, purely because Ataturk decided to do away with the arabic script (which, really had absolutely nothing to do with Turkish culture anyway). Being a calligrapher, she finds the work for the artform longer in demand, causing her much bitterness.
Having said this, the rest of the cast in quite wishy-washy at times. I can’t say I could like any of them. Rikkat’s second husband is portrayed as a dandy, who also goes through the motions of criticising the banning of headscarves and even the libration of women, including the right to vote. This hypocrital liar however, likes nothing better than to sleep around with rich women and entertain himself in the society of those who call themselves ‘muslim’ but practice almost every Western vice they can.
The only person that really interested me was Nureddin, Rikkat’s second son. Here Ghata did allow for some sensitivity and character growth, but all in all it doesn’t seem like she permitted the characters to grow used to themselves. They almost seemed to be written on the fly.
I give this 2/5 stars for a story with little foundation. The characters were more French than Turkish. Francophilia blinds Ghata to the point where she makes the same mistakes other foreign authors do when they write about Turkish culture… degrade and bully it. I sense a tinge of the age-old method for trying to draw revenge from the central asian invaders who took what was deemed the untakeable (Constantinople) and threaten Europe at the doors of Vienna. It is unfortunate that she has succumbed to this literary camaraderie. But it still seems to be a favoured, since it managed to win her 2 awards for a work with such poor structure.