Archive for the ‘O.Z. Livaneli’ Category

I’m not quite sure if I want to class Bliss by O.Z. Livaneli with my other recent lackluster reads. On the one hand, it certainly didn’t thrill me. You’d think that the story of Meryem, a young woman raped by her uncle and of Cemal, the cousin who has been tasked with carrying out the honour killing would be gripping and most likely disturbing. Instead, it was a bit muddled. On the other hand, it held my interest, which many books have failed to do recently, and each of the three main characters gives fascinating insight into the multiple identities of modern Turkey.

Meryem is bright and energetic, a winsome, naïve fifteen-year old village girl from Eastern Turkey. When Cemal comes to take her away, to Istanbul she is told, the reader knows by the responses of the villagers (cruel jokes from some, tears from others) the true fate of the other girls who have ‘gone to Istanbul’, the girls who no one has heard from since. But Meryem, in her innocence, is excited to begin her journey, to see the world beyond the valley she has known all her life.

Cemal, to me, was the most fascinating of the three main characters. Four years older than Meryem, he is just returned from military service when his family presents him with his horrible duty. After years spent fighting Kurdish rebels, Cemal is unsteady, a man trained for violence but not for reasoning. As Cemal struggles with the duty he knows is morally wrong, Meryem remains innocent of the awful fate intended for her. And so they travel the length of the country, from the eastern border to Istanbul and coastal communities beyond, in an uncomfortable alliance.

On this journey, they meet İrfan, a professor tired of his over-privileged, indulgent life in Istanbul. Having left his wife and his possessions behind, İrfan has bought himself a boat and is sailing to nowhere, drinking too much and contemplating his failures. Cheerful stuff. Coming across Meryem and Cemal, he invites them abroad to serve as his crew and off they all sail into the sunset. And into lots of conflict.

It’s through İrfan that the reader really gets to hear about modern Turkey. From Meryem, we learned of village traditions and Islam as interpreted by the whims of the local Sheikh, from Cemal of warfare and the struggle to stay true to what he learned in the village in a more secular, educated society, and from İrfan of the decadence of the liberal, European-style West, of scantily clad women and expensive restaurants, in stark contrast with the tribal ignorance of the east. It’s not just like two difference countries: it’s like two different centuries.

The ending was, for me, far from satisfying. Interesting, yes, but Meryem’s ending felt far too neat for a story that had been anything but. As much as I hate to say this, I think I actually preferred the film adaptation (which is what prompted me to borrow the book in the first place). They’re not terribly similar, but both are definitely worth checking out. What they have in common is the ability to inspire a desperate need in the reader/viewer to visit Turkey.

When Meryem and Cemal got off the train in Istanbul at Haydarpaşa Station, they shared the same feelings as the Megarians, the Vikings, the Crusaders, and many others who had come there over the centuries: amazed admiration. They had all felt that this city was like no other city past or present. (p. 150)

I have always wanted to visit Istanbul and as I was reading this as one of my friend was planning his trip to Turkey (he’s there now); I became increasingly jealous of him as I progressed through the novel.

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