Monday, November 5, 2012

Bliss

Bliss
Author: O.Z. Livaneli
St. Martin's Griffin, 2007
304 pages

Recently, I visited Istanbul for the first time. While there, I learned of this book, which was originally published in Turkey in 2002. I couldn't find a Kindle version, so I ordered a paperback and began reading it as soon as it arrived.

Bliss focuses on three characters: Meryem, a fifteen year-old girl from a small village in eastern Turkey; her cousin and former childhood friend Celem, a soldier fighting in the Turkish-Kurdish conflict; and Irfan, a middle-aged professor from Istanbul.

As the book opens, Meryem has been brutally raped. She declines to name her rapist, who happens to be her uncle and the spiritual leader of the village. Meryem's culture considers rape to be the fault of the female, who is typically expected to commit suicide afterwards. Meryem refuses to kill herself, and instead prepares to be sent away.

Returning home from a bloody war, Celem just wants to get on with his life. But his father (the rapist) orders him to take Meryem away and perform an honor killing. Meryem thinks Celem is going to take her to Istanbul. For the first time in her life, she leaves her village. On the two-day train ride, Meryem meets all sorts of people, including a left-wing family with a young daughter who speaks openly in front of men and doesn't cover her hair; a middle-aged Turkish woman who reads risque magazines; and an American journalist who's asking a lot of questions. The more she sees, the more curious she becomes.

In the meantime, Irfan has become dissatisfied with his wealthy wife, their shallow friends, and his meaningless job. In classic mid-life crisis mode, he emails a goodbye note to his wife, then sets off on a quest to find his metanoia. Irfan's story is a philosophical one full of both sadness and humor as he works things out. There's a really funny scene involving the language barrier that I liked so much, I read it to my BFF who laughed out loud -- as I think anyone who's done any significant international travel will do.

Meryem and Celem make it to Istanbul, where Meryem will be amazed with wonder and will also see the downside of big city life. Most importantly, both she and Celem will meet people who challenge their assumptions, but they will also challenge the assumptions of others and leave an impact wherever they go. It's a lot like life that way. :)

Bliss is an excellent tale, but it's much more: It's a revealing portrait of a very diverse country. I'm glad I read it just after I returned, when the images, sounds, smells and tastes were all fresh in my mind. But even if you haven't been to Turkey, if you enjoy good fiction, you will certainly enjoy Bliss -- one of the best books I've read so far in 2012.  It's also a movie which I haven't seen, but hope to do soon.