Monday, June 9, 2008


Three characters cross paths in O. Z. Livaneli’s Bliss: a professor facing a mid-life crisis; an ex-soldier experiencing PTSD; a young woman condemned to death by her family after being raped.

Bliss, translated by Çiğdem Aksoy Fromm, is my first—but certainly not my last—foray into Turkish literature. If I were hoping for a book promoting Turkish tourism, I would be sorely disappointed. Livaneli does not sugarcoat his native country. Instead, he exposes Turkey’s dark side: ethnic conflicts, shantytowns, and institutionalized misogyny.

After spending two years fighting the Kurds as a commando, Cemal returns to his village only to be ordered by his father to take his young cousin, Meryem, to Istanbul where he must kill her.

Fifteen-year-old Meryem has been raped and ostracized by her family. When she does not commit suicide to hide her “shame,” she is expelled from the village. The cousins’ situations may feel appalling and antiquated to the Western reader, yet the book takes place in the 21st century.

Eventually, the two meet İrfan, who is experiencing an identity crisis. As a Turk, he feels neither European nor Asian; an atheist, he is confused by his Muslim heritage.

Livaneli’s characters are conflicted, complex, and compelling. More than anything, he shows the reader that there is no such thing as a compact national identity.

I keep reading books about Turkey, hoping to get a grasp on the nation and culture before I move there. However, Bliss is a good reminder that no country, no culture, can be adequately summarized in a travel guide.

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