Posted by: mollyscafeistanbul | January 6, 2011

molly’s cafe books: The Lacuna, The Abyssinian Proof

these are tw excellent books that have made their way into Molly’s Cafe.

The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver

A customer brought this into the café not long ago, so I took it home and read it. I had read the Poisonwood Bible some years ago and was happy to have something else by the same author to read.

At first I did not understand why this book was called the lacuna, but at the end (which I will not disclose), I could see how Kingsolver brought the story together.

Basically the story is about a young man whose father is American and mother is Mexican. She leaves the father and takes her young son to Mexico to be the woman of a rich Mexican man. She is the kind of woman who latches on to men, dragging her son along with her. At one point she tells her son to write things down so they will remember them, which he does and continues to do throughout his life.

As a young boy, Harry or Will (he is mostly just the nameless narrator) goes to the beach on the island and one day finds a lacuna, an undersea cave that comes up in one of the many cenote on the peninsula. We will see this again. When he is sent away to school, he discovers that he is gay and through the book we see a few loves he finds, though it is not the main theme of the book.

Eventually our narrator meets Diego Rivera and becomes a plasterer for his murals, as he has learned to make some Mexican cakes that require the same light hand. From there he meets Frida Kahlo, who he has already seen in her colourful glory in the market. Eventually he becomes one of their cooks. When Leon Trotsky, his wife, and his handsome secretary arrive, our young man also becomes a secretary. Although the place is well guarded one day a man who they thought was trustable kills Trotsky and the household falls apart.

Subsequently he decides to return to the U.S., where he finds his father has died and left him a car. He takes the car and starts to drive, eventually arriving in a small town in North Carolina, where he decides to stay. He writes the novel he has been working on for some years, based on stories of the Aztecs. It is published and very well received, in fact so well that he takes on a secretary, Violet Brown. After his second successful book is published, things get rough, as it becomes the time of the Red Scare, and the FBI visits him. He has to sign various papers saying that he is not a Communist, but of course at that time everyone was suspect no matter what. Everything he has said or not said becomes twisted and finally, he goes before the committee in Washington. His lawyer warns him that he will probably be convicted of some noncrime, so at one point he returns to Mexico with his loyal secretary. There he drowns– or does he? Upon her return to the U.S., Violet collects all his notebooks, letters, and newspaper clippings (some of which are real, by the way) and arranges to have them printed 50 years later. This is what we are reading.

Kingsolver is an excellent writer and the story moves well. I found myself getting very upset with the stupidity of the Communist hunters, at which point I had to put the book down. I really liked the way she ended the story and I highly recommend the book.

 

The Abyssinian Proof by Jenny White

This book by Jenny White is another one set in Istanbul. It starts with the conquest by the Turks and a small family escaping with a relic that contains the Proof of God. Then it skips to 1887, when we are introduced to Kamil Pasha, who has to solve the multiple thefts of religious relics from mosques, churches, and synagogues. His investigation takes him to the community of the Habesh, who are descended from Abyssinians. They live in a former cistern in what is now Fatih. I actually visited this cistern a few years ago on a walk through Fatih. It is now a park, but I could visualize it as a community of rather shabby houses.

Kamil meets a young woman called Saba, who is quite taken with him. However, she is going to be the priestess for this community that mixes their own religion with Islam. Also, we eventually discover their shared secret. He also meets a young woman called Elif, who has escaped from Macedonia, losing her husband and son on the way. She is an artist who has studied in Paris.  She also becomes a help in his investigation.

Through Kamil’s investigation, we learn about secret tunnels that connect the Habesh settlement with the waterfront at the Tekel Cigarette Factory, now Kadir Has University. We meet cruel thugs who are part of the ring of thefts and an urbane Englishman who works for the British Consulate. We also meet Saba’s brother Amida, who like many young people rejects the values of his people and gets himself into serious trouble.

The story is very readable and I was very sorry when it ended. However, I was satisfied with the ending.  Jenny White is an anthropologist who knows Istanbul well. I hope her other book, the Sultan’s Seal, makes its way into the café. In the meantime, the Abyssinian Proof is on my bookshelf, so first come, first served!

 

 

 

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