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Turkish Reflections: A Biography of a Place

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The author recounts her experiences living in Turkey for three years, and shares her observations on Turkish history, people, and culture.


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The author recounts her experiences living in Turkey for three years, and shares her observations on Turkish history, people, and culture.

30 review for Turkish Reflections: A Biography of a Place

  1. 5 out of 5

    Leanna

    After reading a culture guide on Turkey, I discovered a review on Amazon recommending Mary Lee Settles destination book Turkish Reflections: A Biography of a Place. I immediately bought the book, but my eagerness quickly disappeared after I opened it. Settle travels throughout Turkey and concentrates on the places she visits rather than the people she meets or the Turkish culture. Unfortunately for me, I am much more interested in human-human interaction than human-landscape interaction. As such, After reading a culture guide on Turkey, I discovered a review on Amazon recommending Mary Lee Settle’s “destination book” Turkish Reflections: A Biography of a Place. I immediately bought the book, but my eagerness quickly disappeared after I opened it. Settle travels throughout Turkey and concentrates on the places she visits rather than the people she meets or the Turkish culture. Unfortunately for me, I am much more interested in human-human interaction than human-landscape interaction. As such, I found the writing pedantic and dry. I did, though, come away with a few interesting bits of information. First, Turkish verbs have more than forty tenses, including tenses for fairy tales and gossip. Although this language sounds magical, I am afraid I’m never going to learn it. Forty tenses! I can currently count to ten, say “dog” and “cat,” and that’s about it. I will be a wiz at the market if I want to buy seven puppies. She also remarks on how hospitable and polite the Turks are, something I’ve heard from numerous people. After leaving Turkey, Settle writes that she was so surprised when a hotel clerk in D.C. was rude to her that she burst into tears. I guess I better work on my manners. At times, though, Settle comes across as either incredibly naïve about or simply patronizing towards the Turks. At one point, she visits a market where a man is making bootleg jeans. He attaches designer labels to the jeans, but Settle claims it was not in a “dishonest” way (143). Excuse me? Much more disturbing and offense is the way Settle downplays and even seems to excuse the Armenian Genocide. She suggests that “history is invented”; if Armenians would do their research, they would see that the Turks viewed the Armenian alliance with the Russians as a treasonous act (67). And thus, I gather, the genocide was justifiable? I don’t even know how to respond to such statements. I enjoy travel books and programs, but I’ve also discovered I like them even more after I’ve been somewhere. Just the other day, I watched a Rick Steves program on Normandy. Because I have been there, the scenes were more beautiful to me. They meant something to me. So maybe after I’ve lived in Turkey, I can come back to Turkish Reflections and the book will be more than just a dry travelogue.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Jenny (Reading Envy)

    This is my last Turkish read in a year where I tried to read a lot of books about, from, and set in Turkey. I have to admit that this was a bit of a let-down. Mary Lee Settle returns to Turkey in 1989 after spending three years there in the early 1970s, and attempts to write a biography of the country based on her own encounters with it. 1989, when even a westerner was still seeing Atatürk through rose-colored glasses (she mentions him often, and always positively), before the USSR dissolved, This is my last Turkish read in a year where I tried to read a lot of books about, from, and set in Turkey. I have to admit that this was a bit of a let-down. Mary Lee Settle returns to Turkey in 1989 after spending three years there in the early 1970s, and attempts to write a biography of the country based on her own encounters with it. 1989, when even a westerner was still seeing Atatürk through rose-colored glasses (she mentions him often, and always positively), before the USSR dissolved, and just after Saddam Hussein started chemical attacks on the Kurds, who were pouring into Turkey (but prior to the invasion of Kuwait.) A lot has changed in Turkey and in the world since then, but a lot had changed in the fifteen years between her visits to the country as well, and she frequently points out the sameness that remains in the face of change. Turkey, Anatolia, the Ottoman Empire - all the different names and shapes this area has inhabited in the last few millennium can be very overwhelming for an American like me, coming from such a young country. Mary Lee Settle is particularly interested in the Hittite, Seljuk, and what can I call the Aladdin eras, and focuses on how the places still hold memories of those times in the archaeology, ethnic makeup, food, and language of the people. She is enamored of the rulers, focusing on the positive sides of their empires and how they contributed to what Turkey is today. A historian would probably tell a more balanced story, and I felt deficient in my understanding of the past even after reading the book. The best moments in this book come when she talks about how she finds the Turkish people - the focus on relationships, friendships, and how those improve her experience. I wish the book had been more about that. She tells a story of how when asked, especially by children, about where she came from, she would respond, "Dün akşam, aydan geldim." (Last night I came from the moon.) This is the whimsy I wish had pervaded more of the book, and makes me wonder about her fiction (she did win the National Book Award in 1978.)

  3. 5 out of 5

    Teneke

    I couldn't make it past 50 pages of this book. The author's style was terribly disjointed and standoffish. Although I very much hope to visit Turkey someday, if I was on the fence, this book would have pushed me over to the other side. Disappointing.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Paul Haspel

    The nation of Turkey has held an important place in the literary career of Mary Lee Settle; she lived there from 1972 to 1974, and her 1978 novel Blood Tie, with its Turkish setting, won the National Book Award. Perhaps it is no wonder, therefore, that she has written Turkish Reflections: A Biography of a Place as her contribution to Touchstone Books' "Destination Series," a series of travel books written by authors of recognized literary excellence, including Alice Adams and Thomas Keneally. In The nation of Turkey has held an important place in the literary career of Mary Lee Settle; she lived there from 1972 to 1974, and her 1978 novel Blood Tie, with its Turkish setting, won the National Book Award. Perhaps it is no wonder, therefore, that she has written Turkish Reflections: A Biography of a Place as her contribution to Touchstone Books' "Destination Series," a series of travel books written by authors of recognized literary excellence, including Alice Adams and Thomas Keneally. In Turkish Reflections, Settle begins her account by discussing how a trip to Greece turned out badly, resulting in her first sojourn into Turkey; the story of how she ingratiated herself with the population of Bodrum upon her arrival in Turkey makes for delightful reading. The immediate impetus for Turkish Reflections was Settle's 1989 return to Turkey, a nation she had not visited in 15 years. Settle describes a voyage all around Turkey, from Istanbul across Anatolia, into the more conservative and traditionalist areas of eastern Turkey, south toward the Mediterranean, and then back toward Istanbul. In the course of her travels, Settle evokes literary and cultural parallels that will appeal to many readers: King Midas, Xenophon, and Aladdin, for example. Consistently, she stresses the Turks' hospitality, good manners, and sense of honor. It is moving to read Settle's critique of Western tourists who seek out only the Greco-Roman ruins -- people who like to visit Turkey, but show no real interest in the Turks. The book concludes with her return to Bodrum to see how things have changed, or remained consistent, in the 15 years she was away. A helpful map at the beginning of the book will help readers follow Settle's peregrinations. I appreciated Settle's advocacy on behalf of a people who are often subjected to horribly negative stereotyping. As Settle writes at one point early in the book, "The Turks I saw in Lawrence of Arabia and Midnight Express were ogrelike cartoon caricatures compared to the people I had known and lived among for three of the happiest years of my life" (p. 3). One senses at once the fairness in what Settle writes, along with the depth of her sympathy and regard for the Turks. At the same time, some readers may feel that Settle's affection for the Turkish people causes her to let Turkey off too easily for some of the darker moments in Turkish history. Her account of the 1974 Greco-Turkish conflict that ended in the Turkish invasion of northern Cyprus and the establishment of the "Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus" (an entity recognized as a nation only by Turkey) is, to say the least, strongly sympathetic to the Turkish point of view. And her account of what happened to the Armenians of Anatolia in 1915 as a "bloodbath that...killed nearly a million Armenians and more than two million Turks with the same inhuman weapons of massacre, neglect, and starvation" (p. 191) might seem to many to minimize Ottoman culpability for what is widely regarded worldwide as an act of genocide against the Armenians. Perhaps this work's status as a "Destinations Book" means that authors of books in the series are not supposed to dwell too strongly on the more difficult aspects of life in the countries that readers of the series are planning to visit. Still, if one wants a well-written, often poetic literary travelogue describing the magic and mystery of Turkey, Mary Lee Settle's Turkish Reflections provides just that sort of reading experience.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Al

    Ms. Settle writes engagingly of early days living in Turkey, and how she became a lifelong fan of all things Turkish. Much of the book is devoted to her travels through central and eastern Turkey in search of particular archaeological remains. She is a comfortable companion, and provides many nice descriptions and vignettes of Turkish daily life. Ms. Settle's style didn't really appeal to me, but this is certainly a good read for those who are interested in Turkey, or planning to visit there.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Kyra

    Interesting but a bit too long & repetitious towards the end. If you are interested in Asia Minor and/or Turkey and its Seljuk/Byzantine/Ottoman past this book does add a different perspective to the popular Western perception of Turkey. Reading it in conjunction with Birds Without Wings by Louis de Bernieres might be a good idea. I mean, was Kemal Ataturk that perfect a hero ?

  7. 4 out of 5

    Aisha

    Seriously one of the best books I have ever read. Take your time while reading... Settle gives you so much information, culture and history about Turkey that you might have difficulty digesting it all in one sitting.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Bob Newman

    Turkey---It's More Than Just Ruins Everyone who writes a book about their travels around the USA, or on life in some part of it, is not required to write sections on the genocide of the American Indians or on slavery. They MIGHT, but it's not how we need to judge the quality of the book. Similarly, books on Turkey do NOT have to have judgements or pronouncements about Armenians. Turkey is a lot more than that awful chapter in human history---and as we all know, there are a lot of awful chapters Turkey---It's More Than Just Ruins Everyone who writes a book about their travels around the USA, or on life in some part of it, is not required to write sections on the genocide of the American Indians or on slavery. They MIGHT, but it's not how we need to judge the quality of the book. Similarly, books on Turkey do NOT have to have judgements or pronouncements about Armenians. Turkey is a lot more than that awful chapter in human history---and as we all know, there are a lot of awful chapters in almost every part of the world, especially if a major power is concerned. If foreign writers are going to discuss that particular series of events in Turkey's past, they should attempt to get their facts straight, or at least present both sides of the question and let readers decide. I believe this book could have let the whole issue drop. No matter what you think, it is true that modern Turks cannot be held responsible for what happened 100 or more years ago. The author lived three years in Bodrum, a coastal town in Turkey, back in the 1970s. Sixteen years later, having written a very successful novel set in the country, she travelled around to all the places she'd not seen the first time. She had connections: people at the US Embassy, Turkish professors, and even a famous Turkish-American music mogul. How she happened to know all these people is never explained. The reader accompanies Settle on a voyage through the ruins of ancient civilizations and through her own past in Turkey, not any of the rest. She waxes long and romantically over the variegated ruins that carpet Turkey, from all the civilizations that have come and gone---Hittite, Phrygian, Urartian, Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Seljuk, and Ottoman---and even remains from the War of Independence in 1920-22. While ruins can make you ponder on the past or on the follies of Mankind, I don't think a country can, or should, be judged on its ruins. What happened to the daily life of the modern Turks, their politics, their plans, their economic successes and problems, education, women, Islam, music, food, literature, art? We learn that Turks are sturdy and hospitable, tough and charming. I don't quarrel with that, but it's shortchanging readers to call this a book on Turkey. It's a book about a trip to see ancient ruins. OK, fair enough, if that's your bag you'll disagree with my three stars. But Settle repeats herself quite often, using similar phrases or images, and she likes to romanticize her own feelings. TURKISH REFLECTIONS is really that: Turkey reflects the author here and she reflects it back. Any word of criticism is like a hen's tooth. Though sensitively composed, I wouldn't recommend this book for people who want to understand more about a country in the real world.

  9. 5 out of 5

    David Poyer

    Just a beautifully observed book. I will assign it to my students to teach how to use settings to convey mood! I really want to see so many places she describes, like the cavelike warrens that used to be churches and monasteries.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Roberta

    A very contemplative read and a good companion the The Secret History of the Mongol Queens: How the Daughters of Genghis Khan Rescued His Empire, which covers parts of the same territory. I haven't read other books by this author but she seems to have a reflective style, presenting history, myth, opinion and observation in an unhurried and involving way. I love the way she describes the innate dignity and courtesy of the Turkish people and it's impossible not to share her slight unease as a A very contemplative read and a good companion the The Secret History of the Mongol Queens: How the Daughters of Genghis Khan Rescued His Empire, which covers parts of the same territory. I haven't read other books by this author but she seems to have a reflective style, presenting history, myth, opinion and observation in an unhurried and involving way. I love the way she describes the innate dignity and courtesy of the Turkish people and it's impossible not to share her slight unease as a secular traveller confronted with a growing sense of fundamentalism throughout the country, particularly in the East. The feeling of civilizations slowly passing and layering on one another will stay with me.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Lorraine

    Oh, this was lovely, lovely, lovely! History, culture, travel, it evokes the mystery and beauty of Turkey in a way that made me feel like I was revisiting well-known and loved places! And yesterday, when I went to Chicago's 5th Annual Turkish Festival, I didn't feel like a stranger, but more like a friend! The dancers and costumes and food and music and art were great, and especially moving were the whirling dervishes, which I had always envisioned as a frenzied, sweaty and maybe crazy-looking Oh, this was lovely, lovely, lovely! History, culture, travel, it evokes the mystery and beauty of Turkey in a way that made me feel like I was revisiting well-known and loved places! And yesterday, when I went to Chicago's 5th Annual Turkish Festival, I didn't feel like a stranger, but more like a friend! The dancers and costumes and food and music and art were great, and especially moving were the whirling dervishes, which I had always envisioned as a frenzied, sweaty and maybe crazy-looking act of prayer. Instead it was beautiful and gentle and worshipful. Hopefully Turkey in 2008 for Lorraine and Dave!

  12. 5 out of 5

    Tuck

    author settle goes back to turkey to re-visit some of the themes and places she was at back in the 70's. this starts a bit slow (just as her novels) but its all worth it to stay with it. fantastic insight in to turkey, western civilization (so-called), and how her novel "blood ties" came to be (though she doesn't specially ever even mention her novel, you can just tell). this is part of a series by touchstone book, called Destinations Book, jan morris was the series editor. simon and schuster is author settle goes back to turkey to re-visit some of the themes and places she was at back in the 70's. this starts a bit slow (just as her novels) but its all worth it to stay with it. fantastic insight in to turkey, western civilization (so-called), and how her novel "blood ties" came to be (though she doesn't specially ever even mention her novel, you can just tell). this is part of a series by touchstone book, called Destinations Book, jan morris was the series editor. simon and schuster is daddy of touchstone books. the only other one i can find is by alice adams "mexico" but haven't read :(

  13. 4 out of 5

    Kathy

    I bought this book to read before traveling to Turkey this summer. Sadly, I didn't have a chance to read it before the trip and only started it on the day we flew from Istanbul back to the States. Nevertheless, I found it a good read and beautifully written. Having been to some of the places written about, it was a wonderful re-visit and a delightful extension of the trip. It piqued my interest for a return trip to explore other areas I missed. The book also introduced me to the Destinations I bought this book to read before traveling to Turkey this summer. Sadly, I didn't have a chance to read it before the trip and only started it on the day we flew from Istanbul back to the States. Nevertheless, I found it a good read and beautifully written. Having been to some of the places written about, it was a wonderful re-visit and a delightful extension of the trip. It piqued my interest for a return trip to explore other areas I missed. The book also introduced me to the Destinations Books, a series of books I was unaware of. I look forward to reading others about places I've been and have yet to go.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Cheryl

    An interesting look into the history and character of Turkey which I picked up to read prior to my trip to Turkey. I finished reading it about 45 minutes before my ride to the airport to leave Turkey. For some reason, I was expecting a travelogue/travel narrative, but the book was exactly what it purported to be: a biography of a place. It covered pre-historic times to modern times, including Genghis Khan and Ataturk and all manner of other things. I enjoyed it very much, but it was a lot more An interesting look into the history and character of Turkey which I picked up to read prior to my trip to Turkey. I finished reading it about 45 minutes before my ride to the airport to leave Turkey. For some reason, I was expecting a travelogue/travel narrative, but the book was exactly what it purported to be: a biography of a place. It covered pre-historic times to modern times, including Genghis Khan and Ataturk and all manner of other things. I enjoyed it very much, but it was a lot more educational than entertaining, which made it harder to retain stuff in the middle of my travels.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Nancy

    Recommended by my childrens' pediatrician upon hearing we will be traveling to Turkey next week. A destination travel book, written by a novelist. Not finding the historical detail I was seeking, I skimmed the book for those passages related the the areas we will explore: Istanbul, Cappadocia, and Ephesus and Izmir (on the Aegean coast). A good introduction into the culture of Turkey.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Laurie

    Great book to read if you're traveling or have traveled to the Turkish cities Mary Lee Settle reflects upon as she travels to find evidence of the lasting impact of the Seljuks reign on Turkish culture (1016AD-1155AD). Her book offers a mix of historical facts and personal experience living in Turkey for three years.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Jetreno

    An author goes to Turkey to find a place to write. Along the way she explains about the country, the people, the formation of the countries, etc. Well written. She lets you "see" the environment from many different views. I think this would be a good book to read if you have an interest in history or in visiting this part of the world.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Mim

    This is the sixth book I'm reading that is about or takes place in Turkey. So far, I'm really enjoying this book and would recommend it to anyone who plans to go to Istanbul or who has been to Istanbul (or Turkey.)

  19. 4 out of 5

    Hummingbird Farms

    A wonderful historical overview as she searched for traces of Aladdin's Kingdom by finding the remnants of the Seljuk Era (1016AD-1155AD) architecture along the ancient Silk Road. Also Settle's cultural reflections will be helpful for an upcoming trip to Turkey.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Thavakumar Kandiahpillai

    The author is very passionate about her travels in Turkey and indeed, there is a lot to share, understand, and see in this proud and complex country with a very, very, long history. But the writing could be more engaging.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Jon Stout

    I read this book because I had previously enjoyed Spanish Recognitions. The book indeed gave me a wonderful sense of place, as Mary Lee Settle interacted with the Turkish people.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Atalay

    Compared to Seal's, Lawlor's Glazebrook's travel accounts Settle gives a more balanced representation of Turkey. She ties to understand the the Turkish Zeitgeist.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Megan

    Lovely armchair travel, but what I want to know is how the author mastered a language that has something like 30 verb tenses in such a short time.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Katherine

    A leisurly visit to the country with history and culture liberally sprinkled throughout.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Kristin

    So good, it got me excited for my trip. Gave me a real sense of the place and atmosphere.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Christine Cassidy

    Liking it so far, just started it. I am reading it to get a taste of Turkish culture in preparation for an upcoming trip to Turkey.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Jenny Sarı

    will try and read it again, need to get my head around the constant flicking backwards and forwards, then im sure i will enjoy the book

  28. 4 out of 5

    Milt

    dbg

  29. 5 out of 5

    Lydia

    a good book to read after you've read a Turkey travel guide...it was hard for me to keep the places straight while Mary Lee was rambling from encounter to encounter.

  30. 5 out of 5

    dudu

    Turks are KARA BOGA ("BLACK BULLS"). God created them to protect the KARA BOGA in Africa from the wh*toid scum . Turks are the attack force of the BLACK race. This is why TÜRKS conquered Europe around the same time the BLACK KANGZ were attacked in Afrika. They destroyed the wh7te capital of CONSTANTINOPLE and replaced it with ISTANBULL, to honour our BLACK BULL (KARA BOGA) nature. When the African KANGZDOMS were destroyed TÜRKIYE was the last KARA BOGA country on earth. The wh#te subhumans Turks are KARA BOGA ("BLACK BULLS"). God created them to protect the KARA BOGA in Africa from the wh*toid scum . Turks are the attack force of the BLACK race. This is why TÜRKS conquered Europe around the same time the BLACK KANGZ were attacked in Afrika. They destroyed the wh7te capital of CONSTANTINOPLE and replaced it with ISTANBULL, to honour our BLACK BULL (KARA BOGA) nature. When the African KANGZDOMS were destroyed TÜRKIYE was the last KARA BOGA country on earth. The wh#te subhumans attempted to take it down in order to permanently end the KANGZ and nearly suceeded. Luckily the biggest KARA BOGA of them all, Mustafa JAMAL, fought of the wh1te beasts and created a BLACK utopia in TÜRKIYE. However the nefarious schemes of the wh'tes continued, attempting to bring the KARA BOGA TÜRKS into the E.U. where they would be overwhelmed by gayreek WH9TE immigrants. Luckily from the furthest we can get from Europe in Turkey, the north east GEORGIAN BLACK territory, a new KARA BOGA rose for the first time since Mustafa JAMAL. RECEP TAYIPP ERDOGAN (REIS) destroyed all wh8te LAICITE devils and restored himself as the KANGZ of TÜRKIYE. Now the BLACK KARA BOGA TÜRKS must struggle against the wh6tes to end that accursed race once and for all.

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