Posted by: mollyscafeistanbul | April 14, 2011

ernest hemingway and dan brown at molly’s cafe

now that i have your attention, i want to report on some of the books i have recently read.

Zoli, by Colum McCann, is about a gypsy woman who learns to read and write and who then writes poems. She also becomes a singer. We meet her when her family, except for her beloved grandfather, has been forced to go out on the ice on a lake by the Hlingas, the fascist soldiers in Slovakia, and then they all drown. Throughout the story we see how the Roma are treated, usually badly, except during the onset of Communism, but of course that changes, too. She married an old violinist but also has an affair with a young English-Slovakian man who is taken with the idea of communism. He works with a man who transcribes Zoli’s songs and eventually a book of them is published. For a while Zoli is feted by the powers that be but eventually that also changes and ultimately she is banned (‘polluted’) from the Roma tribes. She starts walking and eventually ends up in Italy and married a man who is a smuggler when she meets him. The story is told in various voices. At the end, it is her voice as an old woman. She goes to Paris to take part in a conference her daughter is helping to arrange about the Roma, though she does not want to take part in it. She sees Swann again, but does not talk to him much. The book is interesting for its insights into the old ways and the rather sad newer ways.

Inside the book I found a post-it that said ‘I love you’ with a heart. It made me wonder who had written it and whether it was a girl (probably).

It also made me think about the Roma here in Turkey. Although they tend to keep to themselves, they are more integrated here than they seem to be in Europe. For example, they speak Turkish, are generally Muslim, and send their kids to school. There was a community of gypsies here in Istanbul called Sulukule, but unfortunately the city forced them out and resettled them, subsequently selling the land for many times what they had paid the people to move. This was a community that had been there since before the Turks came 700 years ago. There are gypsies living in my neighbourhood, actually. People accept or tolerate them. I imagine they would not see their lives in the story of Zoli.

Angels and Demons by Dan Brown has been written about a lot, I am sure, since it is quite mainstream. I usually don’t like these books, but I was not in the mood for something serious, so I got sucked into this story. It had a lot of twists and turns, and like the Da Vinci Code, it certainly makes one think about faith. I gobbled it up in a few evenings of bedtime reading and now it is in my café waiting for the next person.




The Sunken Kingdom    the Atlantis Mystery Solved was written by Peter James. I borrowed it from a customer who is very interested in sites in Turkey. James presents a very organized and well presented argument that pretty much demolishes the usual Atlantis claims. He talks about Plato, who he regards as a sort of renaissance man (even though he was many centuries before the Renaissance), and Aristotle, who he does not seem to agree with in Aristotle’s assertion that there is no change (to oversimplify). James looked at Plato’s works and did a great detective job of seeking out the sources and explaining the reasons for Plato’s description of Atlantis. Basically, instead of the story coming from the Egyptians, as Plato said, the story probably really came from the Lydians. In brief, Atlantis is based on the story of King Tantalus, who overreached himself with the gods, and his kingdom was swallowed up by a catastrophic earthquake. Through following clues, James places this story in an area near Mt. Sypolus. He included a few photos and drawings for support. In fact his work is well documented but not boring. There are still quite a few ifs and mights, but I am convinced and perhaps one day I will go down to present-day Manisa (once called Magnesia) to check it out for myself.

Tara Road, by Maeve Binchy, is one of those sort of books about women who gain their own strength. It had been a long time since I read Circle of Friends and I knew it would be a bit fluffy, but I enjoyed it anyway. It is about a very nice woman who marries a good-looking flighty man and fills their old home with interesting people. Along the way he leaves her for a bland young woman and she does a house swap on a whim with an American woman who is dealing with the accidental death of her teenage son. They both learn different ways of dealing with people and end up being great friends without even meeting each other. It was good bedtime reading and it is now back on the shelves in the café.



Another book I did not initially want to read was a book of short stories by Ernest Hemingway, Winner Take Nothing. Once I got into it, however, I enjoyed the stories. They are set in different places, including Spain and the U.S. They include characters that are ordinary but flawed and usually not winners and not getting anything much. I always think of Hemingway as being over-rated, but I was reminded of how his style was easily readable with a bit of a wallop. Several of his stories didn’t exactly end, but that’s life, isn’t it? This book is also back on the shelves, so come get it!


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