Wednesday, December 8, 2010

World Party: The "Pat" situation as it appears in Trebizond

November's country in the World Reading Challenge was Turkey. I decided to search NYRB's collection, because I figured I could depend on them for some authentic world lit. So, one stroll over to Idlewild and I walked out with a copy of Rose Macauley's The Towers of Trebizond.

This is one of those books that I feel a review can't do it justice. Not because it blew me away with out-of-this-world amazingness but because it has so many angles to it. It's serious. It's religious. It's a statement. And it's actually quite funny.

Laurie is the narrator, traveling through the back country of Turkey—from Istanbul to Trebizond—with quite an eclectic English group. Aunt Dot, the middle-aged Anglican free spirit with a camel, out to reform middle Eastern views of women; Father Chantry-Pigg, traveling entirely to convert Muslims to Anglicanism; and occasionally Halide, an independent Turkish woman reformed from Islam yet preparing to marry a Muslim man. Throughout their journey, they come across many policemen who think they are spies and Billy Graham on tour with Southern evangelists. Quite the adventure.

It took a bit to fully get in engrossed its pace and language, because the writing has the quality of someone verbally telling a story. Lots of sentences full of commas that just seem to keep going, like the narrator suddenly remembered something else to say. It allows for a great subtle sense of humor, present in what-would-be the narrator's "under his/her breath" comments.

If you picked up on my ambiguity around the name "Laurie," that was intentional. Because to be honest, I STILL don't know the gender of the narrator. I read the entire book assuming it was a man. Laurie could certainly be a manly English name (c'mon, Hugh Laurie!) and the life Laurie leads is definitely not something I would expect of a 1950s English woman—traveling alone, socializing with men, drinking, training monkeys (yes, training monkeys). Yet, Laurie has a lover—a man—which came as a surprise to me at the end, particularly because that would mean this was 1950s English gay literature and it would seem far ahead of its time. But then I am reading other Goodreads comments on this book and people are using that same surprising ending to determine Laurie is, in fact, a woman. So I have no idea, and I'd rather leave it at that right now than research it. I gotta give props to the author for creating so ambiguous of a character! But like I said, this book has a lot to offer and could stand for a good second read down the road.

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