The first Arab Spring: revolution and passion seethe and erupt in this action-packed romance during the dying days of the Ottoman Empire. Kazan’s novel takes us intimately behind the veil, to see and experience the Ottoman world,to let us view, from the “other” side, how the cultural and political antagonisms between the Occident and the Orient of the past century look. There are no easy villains or heroes in this story. Only ardent, unforgettable characters.
An American war widow seeks emotional asylum with her sister at the American Consulate in Constantinople during the Allied occupation in 1919. Through a cross-stitched pattern of synchronicity Kazan’s heroine becomes a vital thread in the fate of Mustafa Kemal (later Ataturk) and his battle for his country’s freedom. Based on firsthand accounts of the Turkish nationalist resistance, THE DERVISH details the extraordinary events that culminated in 1923 with the creation of the Republic of Turkey.
THE DERVISH is the dramatic culmination of Kazan’s acclaimed novel Halide’s Gift, the story of two sisters bound by an extraordinary friendship, and torn apart by their love of radically different men. Translated into seven languages, the novel, according to Publishers Weekly, uncovers “an Islamic world on the brink of change [that] is carefully detailed and convincing.” (Goodreads)
I love books about Turkey, especially when they’re set in Istanbul, so this in itself was already a real treat for me. The second thing that I really loved about the book is that it taught me a lot about a period that I didn’t know very much about. Last year I wrote my thesis on the Arab Revolt, but I had no idea of all the things that went on in Turkey as the last remnants of the Ottoman Empire slowly crumbled, and what it took before an independent Turkish state could be created. Amidst all this turmoil the main character Mary, an American artist, travels to Istanbul to join her sister and brother-in-law there after her husband was killed during WWI. She settles in fairly quickly and is amazed and enchanted by the wonderful city of Istanbul. But soon after her arrival she witnesses an assassination of a young Turkish man by Allied troops, and before she knows it she’s actively involved in the Turkish Nationalist Movement.
What I liked about this novel and its main character is that this isn’t a story about someone who sets out to make a difference in the world, but rather about an ordinary person who, per chance, gets involved in some extraordinary events. When the situation calls for it she proves to be anything but ordinary, but rather a very determined and courageous young woman. While the rest of the Americans prefer to stay safe within the perimeters of the American Embassy, Mary chooses to go out by herself and observe the world around her. She doesn’t care much for Embassy parties and socialising with other Westerners, but prefers to make friends with the locals. She quickly becomes friends with some of the most prominent members of the Nationalist Movement, something she didn’t know about at first, and as the fight for self-governing begins to take flight she decides to stay and fight alongside them. In all this turmoil she even manages to find love, if only for a short time.
The Dervish is a beautifully written book about love, friendship, loyalty, and the fight for freedom. I would recommend it to anyone with a fondness for Turkey, the Middle East, or history in general.