Sunday, August 20, 2006

Halide's Gift by Frances Kazan

I am grateful that the author of this book explains that while the novel is about a real person (Halide Edib, a famous nineteenth century Turkish woman), she has taken the liberty of changing many of the "details" of her life. But why!? Why must she do that? Why change what's already good, great, interesting? And while I'm at it, I don't think the time of death of Halide's stepmother, to whom she was supposedly close, is a "detail." Well, I should calm down. The premise of the whole book--Halide's "gift" for seeing dead people, which later turns into an ability to write really good fiction, if that makes sense--is a "detail" that's made-up.

Halide Edib sounds like a pretty interesting woman, in spite of how boring she is in the book. I'd like to read her memoirs someday, House with Wisteria: Memoirs of Halide Edib. Or one of her twenty-five novels. She lived at the end of the Ottoman empire, her family members were both devout, traditional Muslims and pro-European progressives. She was the first Turkish girl to attend the American Girls School in Constantinople, and she taught English literature at Istanbul University.

Obviously, I didn't like this novel that much, though. The quote on the cover of the book says it's a "complex tale of intrigue, secrets, superstitions and veiled passions." Yes, it contains all of those elements, but somehow it wasn't as gripping as it should have been, especially when the author was making up a lot of stuff. I suppose I learned a few things, though. Kazan's brief history of the Ottoman Empire was just right for me, right now, knowing next to nothing about it. (Though I do know, from the They Might Be Giants song, that Istanbul used to be called Constantinople!)

A half-formed theory of mine is that if a good portion of the praise quotes on a book's cover come from other authors, it's probably not that good. I'm still testing the theory, but it holds true for this one.

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