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A Biography of a Place

by Mary Lee Settle

Pub Date: June 17th, 1991
ISBN: 0-13-917675-6
Publisher: Prentice Hall

 Everyone, it seems, wanted a piece of this superior travelogue by the National Book Award-winning author of Blood Tie, The Beulah Quintet, and Celebration--which is why parts of it are slated to run in Traveler, The New York Times Magazine, and Travel and Leisure. And though the book's subject is a hermetic land, hardly a main contender among fabled destinations, Settle works real magic on it, as clearly Turkey worked on her. She went there first in the early Seventies, a refugee from hostile gangs of teens on a Greek island where she'd intended to write a novel. In the port town of Bodrun she found solace, $l0- a-day coast cruises, and, above all, Anatolian friends. And if, on her return some 20 years later, Bodrun's recent C├Čte d'Azur- ish make-over disappoints her, the rest of Settle's wanderings do not. Istanbul is her first stop, where she visits the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia; muses on the Venetian Sack of Constantinople and the genius of the l6th-century architect Sinan; and even hazards a scrub-down in a Turkish bath. Then it's on to the Black Sea, where Settle demonstrates her splendid fluency with history, literature, and myth (recalling that this coast was once the witch Medea's home). From there she plots a crescent course into the mountainous heart of Turkey, searching for remains of the Seljuk empire, ending up back on the coast listening for echoes of the Hittites, climbing Mt. Latmos, making friends, and, always, loving Turkey. Settle's eye for perfect detail never fails (the sacrificial sheep slaughtered even at modern-day ship launchings, the taste of Turkish wine). But, more, she does for Turkey what only the most accomplished travel writers do: shows why it is a place that must be visited, then makes it seem as if her readers have just come home from there.