Noted scriptwriter and second-novelist Croutier (The Palace of Tears, 2000) details the fall of a once-powerful family as Turkey changes from a backwater to a country allied with the West: a tale more loving ode to the past than gripping narrative.
Croutier’s multigenerational saga begins, in 1918, with the young widow Esma, as the Ottoman Empire ends and modern Turkey comes into being. Esma and her sons Cadri and Aladdin are living in a house on the waterfront in Smyrna. Esma, in love with her sons’ tutor Suleyman, gives birth to a daughter, Aida, but her family of wealthy silk producers prevents her from marrying Suleyman, who by then has disappeared, and Esma, thinking him dead, gives Aida to her brother and sister-in-law to be raised as their own. As the setting shifts from Smyrna to a house on the family silk plantation, then to city apartments, more houses, and finally a cottage in Smyrna, the story not only describes changes in the family but also the political changes: Ataturk’s secularization, the growing American influence, and the revival of religious fundamentalism in the l990s. The narrative is padded with old legends and strained touches of magic realism: there are “tear-shaped diamonds falling off his mother’s eyes that would save the family from being destitute,” and a maid servant remains forever young thanks to her carnal appetites. Aida grows up to be a beauty, attracts both Ataturk and his young military aide, then marries the aide; and Esma’s son Cadri marries Camilla, a feisty woman who gives birth to Amber, despite Esma’s malign curses. Amber later moves to the US, becomes an architect, and marries—the details are sketchy—but returns, in 1997, to visit an aging Aida and find a neat if contrived way to regaining the family’s spiritual home.
In spite of all the color and pretty prose: a dull and underdeveloped saga.