by Louis de Bernières, 2004, Vintage Books, A Division of Random House Inc., New York
This book was recommended by Johanna Hanink, a classics professor at Brown. who accompanied us on our cruise, Pearls of Antiquity, to Greece and Turkey. I have to admit that I didn’t know much about Greek and Roman settlements in the Greek Isles and Asia Minor prior to going on this trip. Virtually all of our lectures focused on Greek mythology and art and most of our excursions were to ancient Greek and Roman ruins. At the same time I could see that I was in two vastly different countries and I had very little understanding about either of them, particularly given the current turmoil that each of them is experiencing. This book helped me to gain a great deal of knowledge about them and insight into their more recent histories.
The book is primarily about the lives of some of the common people living near what is currently called Fethiye on the west cost of Turkey starting prior to World War I. During that time ethnic Greeks and Turks (Christians and Muslims) lived pretty much side by side in the Ottoman Empire without a great deal of discord. The book highlights the events that took place and how they affected both the Christians and the Muslims living in the small town.
The author’s prose is extremely readable and the story is compelling, although a bit brutal at times. Despite this, I found the reading to be somewhat of a chore at times. Perhaps this was due to the very small print which made the book seem to be much longer than its 554 pages. The characters in the book, although fictional, seemed to capture the essence of the place.
The combined effect of our trip to Greece and Turkey and the reading of this book causes me to wonder about the impacts of civilization. With so much philosophy, art, architecture, etc., generated in this region of the earth, why is it that the only way that a people can live in harmony is by getting rid of everyone who is different from them? It seems that no amount of culture can deter the human race’s ability to inflict mayhem on other human beings.
Although I have arrived at a somewhat depressing conclusion, this is a very good novel and I recommend it to anyone who has the perseverance to read it through.