THE TURKISH LOVER by Esmeralda Santiago


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After memorably describing her journey from a Puerto Rican barrio to acceptance at a prestigious New York high school in When I Was Puerto Rican (1993) and Almost a Woman (1998), the author now vividly recalls the long infatuation that put her life on hold in the ’70s.

As usual, Santiago writes well, but this latest memoir at times seems labored and overly self-absorbed. Though she is still nostalgic for Puerto Rico and her family, she seems quite nonchalant about keeping in touch. She is also quick to discern ethnic prejudice, though she has vast numbers of supportive Anglo friends and ultimately benefits from affirmative action. Fundamentally, her problem is more the usual one of loving the wrong man too much. Just 21, her dancing career on hold, she decides to move to Florida with Ulvi, a much older Turkish man. She knows her action will shock her mother, who, though never married herself, hopes her daughter will wed, but Santiago is too much in love to care. Ulvi remains a cipher: he has directed or produced (Santiago never really knows) a famous Turkish movie he now wants to distribute in the US and is going to Florida to raise funds. He never gets the money in the seven years of their relationship, though he makes countless mysterious trips and phone calls. He forbids Santiago to answer the phone, and she supports him when he goes back to graduate school in Texas and New York. While he studies, Santiago works, does his research, types his papers, and writes up his notes. Though he refuses to marry her, Ulvi is insanely jealous, dictating what she should wear and whom she should befriend. Santiago increasingly feels stifled, but only begins to liberate herself when a colleague suggests she apply to Harvard. She is accepted and slowly begins to reclaim her independence.

More an extended whine than a paean to pluck.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 2004
ISBN: 0-7382-0820-5
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Da Capo
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 2004


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