Something from Istanbul
As we were chatting, Ali was excited telling me that the chief minister of Johor and his wife visited that store some months prior and showed me the guest book. He was the owner of the book store in Sultan Ahmet, Istanbul. When I asked him to suggest me something Turkish, he pointed to “The Portrait of a Turkish Family”. There were piles of them on the table. I toyed with the book for a while, bought it, read it and liked it.
The Portrait of a Turkish Family
The book was about the struggle of an upper middle class family adapting through challenging life during World War 1, and therefore depressing. In a male dominated society, things became a little chaotic when the head of the families were enlisted to join the army.This was a story about a young mother, Sevkiye, his sons Irfan (the author) and Mehmet and daughter muazzez.
It was about sufferings for those who are not very familiar with the term hardships. It brought moments of courage and steadfastness of a young, fragile and naive mother to bring up her children. But war time always cast its spell. She thrived and succeeded in making the sons a medical and military officers as intended. The biggest setback was that the ending was a sorrow.
Although much was omitted on the details of their sufferings, it must have been tough that it left Sevkiye insane. God knows how much I wished for a different ending. Nevertheless, the story has many colours that hooked me to it once started. To make it more interesting I immersed into the story and be part of the community, which was quite achievable since I had visited most of the places mentioned. I could vividly see the cobblestone streets, and boats busying the Bhosphorus.
Along the journey through the book, the author could very well be a hero to any reader yet somehow, sometime later, you get disappointed with his course of action. That was the part I liked him most, he was a bit unexpected, not all the time predictable. The book also revealed the decadence of Islamic values and understanding of Islam among the rich at the end of the Ottoman era. The description of an old grandmother as very religious, yet cannot miss her wine during dinner was quite telling. Within the community at large, the traditions were conservative, and family values were strong.
Comments: definitely a good read. To my Turkish friends, good luck in building Turkey as a great nation.