Turkey’s wildly disparate and clashing cultures, from isolated Muslim fundamentalism to jaded secularism, collide in this romantic yet clear-eyed translation from a noted Turkish composer and politician, now a member of that country’s Parliament.
Her village family ostracizes teenage Meryem after she is raped. When her older cousin Cemal returns from fighting in the Turkish army against the Kurds, his father, the family’s religious leader (and Meryem’s secret rapist), orders him to take Meryem to Istanbul and make her “disappear,” the typical fate of defiled village girls. Meryem innocently enjoys the journey to Istanbul, unaware of Cemal’s orders. To his mortification, Cemal cannot bring himself to kill Meryem. His army buddy Selahattin, a devout Muslim and genuinely good man, shows Cemal that the Koran can be interpreted as promoting love and peace, not vengeance. Meanwhile, Irfan, a professor with a TV show and a rich wife, escapes the meaningless of his life in Istanbul by sailing the Aegean Sea in an old boat. He hires Meryem and Cemal as his crew and introduces them to modern ways. Drawn to her budding intelligence, Irfan teaches Meryem to read. As Meryem blossoms, Cemal grows resentful, yet he, too, loses his desire to return to his father’s village. Tensions rise in an idyllic seaside village where they stay with a former ambassador who has withdrawn to his orange orchard to escape the ugliness he has witnessed in the world. Meryem falls in with a kind family who run a restaurant. Cemal and Irfan confront each other with truths neither wants to face. Irfan sails away after giving Meryem all his money. She goes to the restaurant full of hope, leaving Cemal to find his own way. Livaneli deftly folds his philosophical and political questioning into the psychology of his characters.
Eye-opening and deeply moving—essential for anyone looking for decency in the world today.