Sunday, 19 June 2016

Love In Exile by Ayse Kulin

Love in Exile by Ayse Kulin
First published as Umut by Everest in Turkey in 2008. English translation by Kenneth Dakan published by Amazon Crossing in 2016.

One of my WorldReads from Turkey

How I got this book:
Received a copy from the publisher via NetGalley

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

'Sabahat, a beautiful young Muslim woman, is known in her family for her intelligence, drive, and stubbornness. She believes there is more in store for her life than a good marriage and convinces her parents to let her pursue her education, rare for young Turkish women in the 1920s. But no one expects that she will fall for a handsome Armenian student named Aram. After precious moments alone together, their love begins to blossom. Try as she might to simplify her life and move on, Sabahat has no choice but to follow her heart’s desire. But Aram is Christian, and neither family approves. With only hope to guide their way, they defy age-old traditions, cross into dangerous territory, and risk everything to find their way back to each other.'

Kulin takes as her starting point the birth of her father in 1903 and ends with her own birth in 1941 so much of Love In Exile has autobiographical roots although the storyline itself is heavily fictionalised. Both babies were born in the city of Istanbul, but to vastly different worlds - one sees the final years of the powerful Ottoman Empire, the other joins the vibrant new Republic of Turkey - and it is these incredible changes over less than four decades which provide the fascinating backdrop to Love In Exile. We meet very traditional Bosnian Muslim grandparents who just managed to escape persecution in their homeland and now struggle to cope with Turkey's rapid modernisation and radical ideas such as open male-female friendships, a new alphabet and Birthday parties. We also see Armenian Christians who, also exiled to Istanbul, are essentially in the same situation, but are distrusted in their new land. This portrait of a country in transition reminded me of Chinua Achebe's No Longer At Ease where he shows Nigeria exchanging Empire for Independence.

The Love of the title refers to many types of love and it was this exploration that I enjoyed most about the book. Love for country is demonstrated by agonising homesickness for lands left behind and, in the next generation, by overwhelming dedication to creating the new Republic. Love is also shown within families and especially where multiple generations cohabit within the same house - admittedly a mansion - we see exceptional personal sacrifices alongside misunderstandings and the grief of loss. Romantic love provides two of the strongest narrative threads. We follow the forbidden love of Muslim Sabahat and Christian Aram and, later, the surprise match of Muhittin and Sitare.

I would have liked Sabahat and Aram's relationship to be fully explored. Instead they are central for much of the novel before becoming lost amongst the many other characters and stories. Despite family trees at the beginning, I did often lose track of who people were and how they related to each other. Large extended families are the norm and honorifics are frequently used in place of given names. I wasn't always engrossed in Love In Exile which is why it is only rated at three stars although I am still wavering between three and four. Some characters and storylines caught my imagination whereas others failed to do so. I wanted to know more about the older people - what life Saraylihanim led before her senility and how Mahir coped with his wife's obsessional behaviour. However this is a good introduction to the turmoil of early 20th century Turkey and I would certainly like to discover more about the country at this time.

Search Literary Flits for more:
Books by Ayse Kulin / Historical fiction / Books from Turkey

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