We can't go back to Constantinople, but in this fictionalized biography Halide Edib teaches us much about women's lives in that eastern metropolis at the turn of the century. Although didactic (a chunk of history is dropped abruptly into the middle), the book is not without interest in its forays into closely guarded harems, the large country houses of well-to-do Turkish families, the European quarter, and—on a sadly contemporary note—a camp for refugees from nationalist fighting in the Balkans. Halide Edib, daughter of a bureaucrat at the court of the last sultan of the Ottoman Empire, displays intellectual talent at an early age. After her mother's death, her European-leaning father sees to it that she receives a first-class education: first from her Circassian governess (later stepmother) Teyze and then as the first Turkish student at the American Girls College. Born into a Muslim family whose members pride themselves on being direct descendants of "Eyoub, the standard-bearer of the Prophet," Halide has inherited the family gift, an ability to hear the voices of the spirits of the dead. Her grandmother, who shares that gift, is firmly set in traditional ways and worries that Halide will lose her faith as she is exposed to Western influences. Devoted to the mystical poetry of the Sufis as well as to her growing ability to write English fiction, Halide attempts to walk the tightrope between West and East, even as she see others—like her half-sister Mahmoure, who abandons her arranged marriage and her children for her lover (and Edib's former protégé), Riza—come to grief in the attempt. This second novel (after Goodnight, Little Sisters) is old-fashioned and its style undistinguished; however, its portrayal of an Islamic world on the brink of change is carefully detailed and convincing. (July 3)
FYI:Kazan is the wife of director Elia Kazan.