Recently read: Portrait of a Turkish Family (Irfan Orga)
I bought this book about 3 years ago in Turkey as a gift for my husband. I was on a visit to my family who lives in Ankara. It was the only time that I had visited my parents for bayram (religious holidays similar to Christmas or Easter) since I had left Turkey. Such occasions are always fun since the whole family come together, eat together, and exchange stories. For me it was a great chance to see them all together, again.
However, I was alone, my husband had to stay in Holland due to business related reasons. I thought he missed out on witnessing several, sometimes funny sometimes eerie, traditional events. Such as eating baklava and drinking Turkish coffee at each visit to family members.. or again eating kavurma which is made of fresh meat.. The eerie part comes from the fresh meat.. sacrificing an animal (cow or sheep or goat) and extracting meat out of it.. I cannot witness that kind of a cruelty nowadays, but as a child these scenes were normal.
During bayrams, people followed certain rituals just like waking up early in the morning, men doing the morning praying and women preparing bayram breakfast.. children wake up after their parents, put their new clothes on and before breakfast they kiss their parents' hands, who will grant them with pocket money or presents :) I loved that part of course.. and on bayram's eve I used to place my new shoes beside my bed and fall asleep dreaming how beautiful I would look in them :) If it was the sacrifice bayram, families would kill one cattle head per family. Later, something like 90% of the meat would be distributed to poor families, the rest would be used for the eventual guests and of course for the first bayram lunch for the family themselves. Bayrams are always about sharing and it felt, even as a child, awarding to do the good deeds.
And my husband, who is Portuguese, had missed all these events. He was not able to experience any of it.. Living in Christian societies in Western Europe, I know quite a lot about Christmases or Easters, Ascension Days, etc. Likewise, I wanted to share with him the culture once I was living by..
To my grief, I found this book in the bookstore. The title pretty much explained my intentions when I offered it to my husband. I hoped that he would find a piece of me in the book. He still hasn't read it, but I did... recently.
It's a real story about a boy whose wealthy family go through varying degrees of suffer and sometimes happiness during the 1st world war and after in Istanbul. I liked the author when he was a little boy, what he saw and understood. He was vulnerable but also strong. I didn't quite like what he became of as an adult. I felt quite distressed about his incapacity to act on things, to decide for his family and being very obedient to the women of the house, who needed a strong man to be looked after. Overall it was a well-told story and nothing wrong with the author's literary talent. I just could not become friends with the author, that's all :) While reading I sensed that he didn't do what he preached and hadn't learnt from his past experiences. I am not sure whether this can be attributed to Turkish manhood. Also, I don't want to deny the fact that, he was born and raised a century ago, which could also explain some of his conservative behaviour.
One thing was very interesting to see. Turkish women of the time seem to be very opinionated and autocrats. Especially, the oldest woman of the house seems to have a heavy vote for family decisions. I also was very happy to discover that there was always a bottle of wine at the dining table or some liquors for after dinner as digestives. Women had their equal share in this :) So, if you want to discover such little things, then the book is for you.
The book was a best-seller in the 50s in US and England. It is written in English and received praise about the author's conduct of English language. Orga had lived in England for only a couple of years when he wrote this book all in English.