Showing posts with label #WITMonth. Show all posts
Showing posts with label #WITMonth. Show all posts

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Back in print from 100 years ago - Turkish and American women reflecting on their cross-cultural experience


I came across this marvelous book series "Cultures in Dialogue" the other day, and wished I could park myself down immediately to see what had changed for American female expats living and writing in Turkey 100 years ago, and what was the same.

Here's how the series publishers describe it:
Cultures in Dialogue returns to print sources by women writers from the East and West. Series One considers the exchanges between Ottoman, British, and American women from the 1880s to the 1940s. Their varied responses to dilemmas such as nationalism, female emancipation, race relations and modernization in the context of the stereotypes characteristic of Western harem literature reframe the historical tensions between Eastern and Western cultures, offering a nuanced understanding of their current manifestations.
Obviously, the Ottoman Empire is no more, so it would be impossible to see the Sultan at Yıldız Palace as Anna Bowman Dodd did.

Anna Bowman Dodd, the author pictured above, traveled throughout Istanbul and shared her impressions of household management, education, slavery, marriage, women's rights from a female travel writer's point-of-view.

The eternal conversation on cross-cultural female emancipation will still be occurring in some form 100 years from now. How interesting it would be to see the progress from 100 years back.

Even today, only 12% of Turkish women have been out of their country. How fun it would be to read Zeyneb Hanoum's impressions of Europe as she visited it at the turn of the last century or to read the memoirs of the famous feminist from the early Turkish Republic, Halide Edib.

So many books, so little time! Kudos to the publishers for bringing these historical voices back to the conversation.



You may also be interested in these posts:

#EnSonNeOkuyorsun What are you reading lately?

"My Little Library in Anatolia" by Kaya Genç

"The People Who Go"

Follow Empty Nest Expat on Facebook to ensure you'll never miss a post! See you there.

 

Friday, March 23, 2012

Africa Day @ the Global Minds Book Club

On the first stunning weekend of Spring
we met to discuss an amazing book
in a beautiful home
overlooking the Bosphorus.
Knowing that my Ghanian friend Clarence wouldn't be in Istanbul forever, I asked him if we could read an African book and have him moderate our discussion at our Global Minds Book Club, which he founded.

My view of Africa from Istanbul was completely different than the view I had back home. In America, the only thing one reads about Africa in the media is generally aid, AIDS, drought, and other negative stories. Think of the most recent American media firestorm about Africa: the KONY video. It's a simplified African story told by non-native white people with motives that are hotly debated. 

In Istanbul, however, I see TV commercials aimed at African consumers. These commercials  made me realize there is a large middle class there. Clarence says there are over 50 million middle-class consumers in Africa right now.

Clarence, who founded the popular Istanbul "Global Minds" book club over a year ago, usually runs the group as a complete democracy with a 'majority rules' vote on each title, but in this case, there might have been a bit of enlighted and beneavolent leadership. 

Clarence suggested Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's novel "Half of a Yellow Sun" based on this wonderful TED video of her warning all of us as people to beware the "single story" we have in our heads about other nationalities, races, and classes of people. It's really worth 18:49 minutes of your time.
I picked up a copy of her book and noticed the cover had a sticker denoting it as the 2007 Orange Prize for fiction winner. I was intrigued to learn the Orange Prize for Fiction is a fairly new prize started in 1996 (which you can "like" on Facebook for more information) that honors the best book published by a female in a given year in Britain. The announcement of the long list of candidate titles for the prize coincides with International Woman's Day.

It stunned me to realize that this was the first book I had ever read by a black African author EVER in my life. I found that sobering. I've read books about Africa, such as "Out of Africa" by Isak Dinesen (a European expat living in Kenya), but here I am, in my 50s, and this is the first time I've ever heard a black African voice in novel form. Even though I'm a librarian, a life-long avid reader, and a life-long book club attender, I hadn't even gotten to the point where I had the limiting "single story" about a people, I realized, I had NO story from their point-of-view. That means every single thing I've ever read or heard about black Africans to date was not through their eyes, but someone else's.

I do think that's changing now in America as many high schools are having their students read "Things Fall Apart" by Nigerian author Chinua Achebe. I want to read that as my next African title.  Of course, like many American women, the most recent stories I've had about Africa have all come through Oprah's eyes.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie wrote her book about middle-class Igbo people struggling to survive in the Biafran war when she was just 29 years old (note to self - my only previous knowledge of Biafra - again from an outsider - a George Harrison album cover devoted to starving children in Biafra). It was such a riveting story. I want to read everything she writes!

I absolutely loved this book. An introduction to a new author, a new place, a new people are what makes book clubs such a powerful tool for sharing ideas and life-long learning. It was my book club that got me to pick this book up.

After I finished the book, I read more about the Nigerian Civil War on Wikipedia and was frankly astounded and reminded of the evils of colonialism. 
Norah is from Kenya and was our gracious hostess.
 She said "feel free like a housefly,"
a Kenyan aphorism of welcome telling us to be comfortable.

I told her we call it "refrigerator rights"
in America.
Good friends have "refrigerator rights,"
they can just walk in your house and open the refrigerator.
Clarence and a new member from America.

True to form, Clarence used the title
 as a launching pad to discuss all things African:
 politics, gender relationships, tribal customs,
 superstitions, economics.
It was a fantastic, frank, fearless exchange of views.
Nationalities represented for this book:
 Kenya (2), Ghana, Canada, America (3),
 Ireland (2), New Zealand.

 We all wondered where our Turkish voices were that day -
we were dying to know what they thought of the book. 
Norah's ambience included both beautiful African art,
this piece represented the Masai tribe,
and tribal music playing softly in the background.
I loved hearing Norah's perspective!
Ana, a Kiwi, me, a Yank, and Jackie, an Irish lass
We had planned to watch a Ghanian movie afterwards
but we had a four-hour book discussion,
our longest ever!
It was delightful watching twilight
descend over the bridge as we talked.
Pausing to watch the ship go under the bridge,
from Norah's balcony,
I felt so blessed.
It was a magnificent way to spend the day.

I can promise author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
I will not stop at this "single story."
I want to read more African fiction and stories.
Her outstanding book made me care about people
I never heard of before.
It also made me want to know more.

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Sunday, February 19, 2012

Understanding Iran: The Power of One Graphic Novel called 'Persepolis'


Persepolis, Volume One
by Marjane Satrapi
Americans have been miscommunicating with Iranians for 60 years. Rather than continue to be a part of the problem, I "sought first to understand" rather than "asking to be understood" by reading this book. It is a profound, moving, and shocking graphic novel. I was continually in awe of the author's insight at such a young age; Marjane Satrapi wrote her book in her early thirties. I was also impressed by how many different ideas were presented in what is esentially a comic book that could be read in a couple of hours.

"Persepolis" helped me to understand how powerful people misuse the fear created by outside events to consolidate power for their own ends. This book starts with a reminder of how America and Great Britain interferred with Iran, causing the events that eventually led to the removal of the Shah from power (America overthrew a democratically-elected government in Iran in the 1950s).

The power of the book lies in how personally the story is told and its effect on a sophisticated, young, globally-oriented child who is age 6 to 14 in the story. While my country's wrong-doing is presented matter-of-factly, Ms. Satrapi saves her biggest impact for the self-imposed stupidity of constant war and constant death created by the Iranian regime during its war with Iraq. Her genius and wondrous courage is helping us, the readers, feel the stunned horror of one's country badly run through a series of vignettes from her childhood.



Author Marjane Satrapi
I would like to read Persepolis 2, to find out what happens to the author. Ms. Satrapi is an incredibly valuable woman to a country that most probably isn't ready to appreciate that fact. She seems like a creative visionary who will be read by all Iranians 50 years from now because she told the truth. While the status quo continues, I assume her work will probably be denounced by the powers that be.

Extrapolating the lessons learned from finishing this book back to my own country, I see how the events of 9/11 have also enabled American leaders, particularly the executive branch, to consolidate power in a way that doesn't bode well for the citizenry: the Patriot Act, indefinite detention of citizens, the end of "probable cause" requirements for internal spying, and new Presidential authority to take the lives of citizens without judicial oversight. Each externally-inflicted harm creates, causes, and enables worse internally-inflicted harm.

Interested in reading another book about governmental abuse of power?

You might like this post:

The Restoration of Order: The Normalization of Czechoslovakia

or if you're interested in books about the general region, I recommend this post:

The Ottoman Empire from the other side as told in "The Bridge on the Drina"

Friday, December 10, 2010

Heda Kovaly, Czech Who Wrote of Totalitarianism, Is Dead at 91

People of a certain age in the Czech Republic have had the misfortune of experiencing the full blast of the worst of the 20th century.  The Czech Republic was occupied by the Nazis longer than any other country.  Quickly after the nightmare ended, years and years of gray totalitarianism started.

While I have not read this author, I can't help but read her obituary and be impressed by her dignity, her humanity, and her sheer ability to survive.  Here's what the New York Times reviewer had to say about her book looking back on the worst of totalitarianism in Central Europe:

“This is an extraordinary memoir, so heartbreaking that I have reread it for months, unable to rise to the business of ‘reviewing’ less a book than a life repeatedly outraged by the worst totalitarians in Europe. Yet it is written with so much quiet respect for the minutiae of justice and truth that one does not know where and how to specify Heda Kovaly’s splendidness as a human being.”

Take a moment to click on my title and read about the life of Heda Kovaly, author of ''Under a Cruel Star.''

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

In Prague, you can enjoy reading the "Cafe Europa" at the Cafe Europa

Slavenka Drakulić continues her look at life after communism in the book "Cafe Europa" her sequel to “How We Survived Communism and Even Laughed.” It's a great read and an honest read that rings true still 14-18 years after she wrote it.

If you think regular consumers in the West sometimes have trouble recognizing that TV advertisements and media showcase a fantasy, unobtainable lifestyle, imagine how hard it was for people exiting 40 years of communism to know what’s real and what isn’t.

Croatian novelist and essayist Slavenka Drakulić says that every Eastern and Central European formerly-communist capital expresses their longing for the perfect Europe of their imagination with a Cafe Europa.  There's one in all the major capitals; indeed, the one in Prague is spectacular.

One of the most powerful parts of her book discusses the complicity that citizens of fascist/communist countries feel having worked to sustain a system that is now on the dustheap of history. As countries like Croatia tossed aside old street names, square names, and place names to reflect the change in power from communism to democracy, citizens saw their own personal history erased at the same time as everyone glossed over how they participated. She discovers that nations as a whole, don’t look back with probing insight. When the author went to Isreal and was questioned by the citizens there about Croatia's role in the Holocaust, Ms. Drakulić realized with shock that people there were asking her questions about history that went unexamined back home. It’s hard to take responsibility, on a personal and a civic level if that isn’t part of the civic culture.

I enjoyed this book because the author beautifully explains that many of the emerging democracies infantilized under communism are actually stuck in feudal behavior as much as communist behavior. The political system may have changed for the better, but it will be years until citizens know how to work the system, rather than subvert the system (the old way of surviving) and also how to look to themselves as personally responsible.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

"How We Survived Communism and Even Laughed"

Imagine living in a country where your political system did not consider your needs as a woman and mother important enough to provide for. It's easy enough in the West to bemoan the superficiality of a consumer culture, but how long could you last, Western ladies, in a country that had no consumer culture at all?  Imagine a life without cosmetics, any sort of feminine hygiene products, where fruit was available only sporadically if at all, and where recycling was not about ecology but about the complete lack of any goods to replace worn-out items.

"How We Survived Communism and Even Laughed," a book by Croatian writer Slavenka Drakulic is a wonderful description of what it was to live as a woman trying to create a normal life under a totalitarian regime. Encouraged by her feminist friends in the West, Gloria Steinem and Robin Morgan, Ms. Drakulic describes what it was like for women in the first few years after all of the regimes fell.  While pundits described grand political theories about what just happened after the Wall fell and what was continuing to happen, Drakulic was among the first authors writing about how these regimes affected ordinary women.

This book is a quick and wonderful read that shows communism didn't necessarily end when the Wall came down.  It will take future generations for all of that communism to leave the mind. I don't think any other writer has helped me see how communism breeds incredibly reactionary outlooks in people since making a mistake could be so well...fatal...plus job #1 was to survive it until the next day.

You might enjoy my post about Slavenka Drakulic's other book:

In Prague, you can enjoy reading "Cafe Europa" at the Cafe Europa
 
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