The Life of Ismail Ferik Pasha

Rea Galanake, Author, Rhea Galanaki, Author, Kay Cicellis, Translator
Rea Galanake, Author, Rhea Galanaki, Author, Kay Cicellis, Translator Peter Owen Publishers $34.95 (166p) ISBN 978-0-7206-0965-3
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An exotic time and locale may draw readers to this historically rich novel by Greek writer Galanaki (I Shall Sign Louis), but an unconvincing protagonist saps its emotional impact. Set in the 19th century, the plot revolves around attempts by the inhabitants of Crete to overthrow the occupying Ottoman Empire. Ismail Ferik Pasha is a Cretan boy (based on an actual historical figure) who is kidnapped, forcibly converted to Islam, raised to become a military leader and then, in adulthood, sent to subdue a revolt on his native island. The novel's first section, titled ""Myth,"" chronicles the story of Ismail's capture and childhood, which includes friendship with Ibrahim, son of the renowned Turkish conqueror Mohammed Ali. The second section, ""History,"" narrates in Ismail's voice his return to Crete, his command of the Muslim forces against Cretan rebels and his attempts to reconnect with his long-lost Greek brother, Antonis. Galanaki's intellectual exercise--questioning notions of myth and history--is admirable, but it eventually hinders the creation of a truly compelling narrative. Individually gripping scenes take a backseat to long dissertations on history. Even Ismail's firsthand account, rendered in somewhat haughty prose, keeps the reader at a distance and fails to deliver much insight. Though the novel illuminates a largely unfamiliar period of history, Ismail never becomes much more than a flat moment in that history. (Oct.)
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