A FEZ OF THE HEART by Jeremy Seal


Travels Around Turkey in Search of a Hat
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 An intrepid Englishman journeys across the geographic, cultural, and sartorial landscape of Turkey in this wryly trenchant narrative that delivers far more than its title portends. Having previously taught English in Ankara and being fluent in Turkish, Seal, now a travel writer, undertakes a diligent search for any remaining traces of the conical, tassled fez that was outlawed by AtatÅrk, founder of modern Turkey, in 1925. So thoroughly banished was this headgear in pursuit of a modern, secular society (hangings were not uncommon in the enforcement of the ban), that Seal is only able to locate some fezzes in the dusty backrooms of a handful of hatmakers, in an Istanbul museum (where Seal, customarily the only visitor to any museum in his odyssey, is spied on by a man with a walkie-talkie), and on the head of a hopeful tourist agent. Crossing the Anatolian heartland in the footsteps of AtatÅrk, Seal finds a nation of unfinished and decaying buildings, treacherous roads, rickety conveyances, and ideological battles between the Western-looking secularists and the Eastern-looking Islamic fundamentalists. While in Kurdistan (some of whose population are still unaware that the fez was banned), Seal talks with villagers caught between the threats of Turkish soldiers and Kurdish guerrillas, both sides, it appears, equally barbaric. Yet there is much humor to be found: Seal's description of the common man is fraught with an economically worded, dryly colonial sensibility; Turks are forever trying out their English on Seal with hilarious effects; and the bureaucracy is unfailingly, comically inept. The fez, in its various historical and stylistic permutations, is never absent from the book; finally, the reader understands it as the physical embodiment of a nation forever seeking an identity. An adventure firmly predicated on the almost extirpated fez, yet far more than the story of a hat, Seal's book is an unerring pleasure to read.

Pub Date: March 28th, 1996
ISBN: 0-15-600393-7
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Harvest/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15th, 1996


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