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IN BRIEF

Nonfiction

June 23, 1991|Alex Raksin

TURKISH REFLECTIONS: A Biography of a Place by Mary Lee Settle (Prentice Hall Press: $19.95; 256 pp.). Visitors to Istanbul cannot help but be struck by the sense of elan and excitement in the air. It is a kind of fusion power, novelist Mary Lee Settle suggests in this searching travelogue, an energy generated by the concourse of space (this is where Asia, Arabia and Europe meet) and of time: Skyscrapers tower next to mosques, businessmen set their briefcases down on busy sidewalks when speakers wail songs of praise to Allah.

Modern Turkey is able to tolerate this cultural confusion because it is still callow, formed only seven decades ago. With callowness, though, comes volatility, which explains why Turkey capriciously expelled American planes from its bases during the Gulf War after having permitted them only weeks earlier. Settle does not explicitly study Turkish politics: This poetic "biography" is more concerned with the emotions underlying politics. But readers who know something about the nationalist uprisings in neighboring regions such as Armenia will nevertheless find telling hints of Turkey's future in Settle's account of the Turks' "deep, genetic seeking for a figure who is lover, father, conqueror."

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