Posted by: mollyscafeistanbul | July 5, 2011

Books at Molly’s Cafe June 2011

A friend brought a whole bag of books into the café before I moved and commented that I would probably not want to read them. However, I left only three on the shelves and took the rest home. These are a few that I have read so far.




My favourite book this month was The Desert and the Sown by Gertrude Bell. A while back I read a biography of Gertrude Bell, so my appetite was whetted for more. She was such a remarkable woman and has been totally overlooked. For example, she knew T.E. Lawrence, who was kind of a twerp but had a movie made about him because he made war. She made peace, for the most part, and travelled on her own through areas that are only now becoming tourist destinations (as long as the country is calm, nowadays). In this book, she tells about her travels in 1905 from Jerusalem through Lebanon and Syria into what is now SE Turkey. The book is sprinkled with photos, many of them taken of ruins or pieces of columns and some of the people she visited or encountered. This woman in her late 30s rode by horse and sometimes mule over desert and mountain, often taking back roads to avoid the Turkish authorities who probably would not have let her through. She paid her respects to governors and sheikhs, commenting on their conversations and characters. She offered her observations of how people lived, the Druze in Lebanon (and some she encountered in Syria), the various kinds of Muslims, a few Armenians, the Yezidi, a few Greeks. It was an incredible journey as she stopped to see ancient sites that were becoming only heaps of rocks in some cases. She endured terrible roads and weather and described the beautiful flowers she saw. Someone commented that he had found the book tedious, but I really enjoyed it and wished I had been there, difficult as it was. She caught this area just as it was being settled once again after having been settled by the Romans, Greeks, Seljuks, Arabs, and who knows who else. I am curious to see how it looks now that it has been made into several countries with growing populations. I suppose I have a bit of nostalgia for a time that is long past and people who are much more ‘civilized’ now. I did remark that a photo she took of a Kurdish young woman would not be so different now, except for the dress– similar features and similar sense of independence. A good read! It is not on the shelves, as I borrowed it from a friend, but check out your library or bookstore.


The Girl from the Golden Horn was written by Kurban Said. The author has somewhat of an aura of mystery about him. He was an Azeri Jew who converted to Islam. His other book is Ali and Nino, which I read some years ago. This one concerns the daughter of a pasha, both of whom relocated to Berlin when the Ottoman Empire collapsed. The daughter, Asiadeh, had been promised to a prince, but since they had no idea where he was, she and her father assumed that the promise was rescinded. In the meantime, she met a German doctor, fell in love, and married him. As we read, we see how she is treated by the Germans as well as by her husband and the assumptions she has of how people should act. In the context of our modern day, it is interesting, as some things have not changed and intercultural relationships continue to be challenging. At any rate, she and the prince meet and I will let you read the book to see which choice she makes. The writing is actually not that great, but the story is interesting, so I would recommend it.


The Last to Know by Candida Crewe has an interesting premise. The husband in a happily married couple goes out for ice cream one cold and rainy night and just does not come back. We read the story from both perspectives, the wife who worries for days and months and the husband who just keeps wandering. Although he is a doctor, he works at low level jobs to pay for his bed-sits as he travels around the U.K. Through both their stories we learn about the characters and how they met and set up their relationship. I don’t think I had read anything by this author before, but I enjoyed the analysis of character and relationship.



The Long Night of White Chickens by Francisco Goldman is set in Guatemala during its darkest years. It is a somewhat convoluted story, with a young Indio girl sent to be a maid to an American family consisting of a Guatemalan society wife and a Jewish man. The girl, Flor, does actually do housework and take care of the son, Roger(io), but the father also sends her to school. She starts primary school several years older than her classmates, but continues on and goes to Wellesley. After that, for some reason she decides to return to Guatemala, where she eventually becomes the director of an orphanage and also places children for adoption in other countries. She is mysteriously killed, accused of baby selling. Roger goes to Guatemala to try to figure out who killed her and why. Along the way he meets up with an old school mate who is a journalist there and who was Flor’s lover for a few weeks. Throughout the story you get to see what a corrupt mess the country is in and also to see some of its areas through Roger’s eyes. The ending is inconclusive and sometimes the story is hard to follow, but it is an ok read. Back on the shelf now!


Another book that I enjoyed more was Saving Fish from Drowning by Amy Tan. It was loosely based on the real story of a group of American tourists who disappeared in Burma/Myanmar, told by a dead Bibi Chen (also a real person). The author took some of the story from a real psychic, so the whole thing has a sort of strange premise. It was funny to read about these well-meaning but ignorant tourists, so typical of so many Western tourists, thinking they could throw money at things to make them better. It was interesting to see the landscape and people through both their eyes and the eyes of Bibi. At points the book was a little slow, but on a whole I enjoyed in. Back on the shelf now.


happy reading!


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