Bliss by OZ Livaneli–a trek through Turkey

Author: OZ Livaneli
Genre: fiction
ISBN: 9780312360535
276 pages
: 2002 (2006 English translation)
Source: public library
Rating: 3.5/5
Challenges/ResolutionsTravel the Globe Resolution (and Further Exploration)

This is the third round (of six) for my Travel the Globe Resolution, which I’m doing with a blogger friend, Shannon at Giraffe Days.

OZ Livaneli’s Bliss is a novel in which three very different people unite and ultimately separate. These three people–Meryem, Cemal, and Irfan–represent three very different groups of people in contemporary Turkey.

Meryem is a fifteen-year-old girl living in a small rural village in Anatolia (that’d be eastern Turkey). From the Western viewpoint, she might seem very “oppressed”, but she doesn’t consider herself so because she knows no other life than the one where all women are sinners simply because of their gender and are subjugated to men. In this case, the “helpless fifteen-year-old girl who has no rights as a woman” has been raped by her uncle, a sheikh. This seems to me like the book would just intensify stereotypes like those some people might hold about women in Muslim/Middle Eastern countries (like my mom and grandma, actually). Not sure if this was intentional or not.

Cemal is an ex-commando who just finished his two year (mandatory) stint in the Turkish army. It was his father that raped Meryem (so they are cousins). His father doesn’t tell him what exactly Meryem did to “shame the family”, but he charges him with taking her away to Istanbul to “deal with the problem” (aka, kill her).

And Irfan is a professor of middle age. Married very well-off and living in the modern world where the customs of a village like Meryem’s are practically nonexistant except for political reasons. He is plagued by some crazy psychological ailment in which he basically fears doing the same thing day in and day out–a fear of knowing what is coming and the mundanity of it all. So, he makes a HUGE change in his life

The setting of the story, which takes place in the present, is in various places around Turkey. It starts in east Turkey, called Anatolia. Then, Meryem and Cemal trek west across the whole country to Istanbul. Finally, they work their way south to the Aegean coast.

As for more serious things, there are some issues brought up in the book. First and foremost, the whole helpless girl being raped and it being her fault as a religious issue is there. Then there are the political tensions brought up–the Turks and Kurds are fighting and there is an Islamist Revolution a la 1970s Iran present in bigger cities.

Cemal and Irfan, as characters, were a little annoying to me at times. They seemed to whine and complain and be depressed about anything and everything. Yeah, I know everyone complains from time to time. But it was fairly constant from them. Meryem, on the other hand, didn’t complain much at all. She was completely naive to the fact that the other girls from the village who went to Istanbul and never came back didn’t come back for a ghastly reason. I didn’t really connect with any of the characters and felt that I shared basically no similarities with them at all. As I said before, Meryem might seem oppressed in the Western sense of the word. And I am not oppressed by any means. I liked the fact that until Meryem had left her village near Lake Van and seen more of the country–especially the more “developed” parts–she had no problem with her life. She saw nothing wrong or amiss, and I’m not saying there was. I hadn’t realized that it such a modern world and in a country like Turkey with some very developed parts of the country that there could be such “backward” places and communities. I don’t mean that I think they are backwards, but I can’t think of a better word. (I mean, primitive and undeveloped also sound just as bad, to me.) Oh, and as far as Irfan goes, I’m very different. I appreciate spontaneity sometime, but mostly I like to know what to expect, even if it is the same “mundane” routine for the most part.

Something that I mentioned earlier is one thing that I hadn’t realized. I mentioned that Turkey was/is going through an Islamist Revolution when this story is taking place. But I didn’t realize that this was happening so recently in Turkey. From my very limited and uncomprehending Western knowledge of Islamist Revolutions in the Middle East, it seems weird wanting more regulations and whatnot. A step backward, in my mind. But I have been brought up to think that democracy is the best sort of government, especially a la the USA in respect to all our freedoms. So repression of freedoms I already have and take for granted boggles my mind. But I don’t want to get into anything political, so I’m stopping there.


3 thoughts on “Bliss by OZ Livaneli–a trek through Turkey

  1. I quite like these kinds of books, ones that take me out of my comfort zone, but I’m not sure that I want to read this one. I was wondering – did you learn all that much from this one? Did it add to your knowledge of the country and customs all that much? It rather sounds like it perpetuated prejudices without adding anything to it. Is that impression completely off?

    • Kristie says:

      Oddly enough, the fact that I knew what the book entailed going into it (via the summary) made this book not really take me out of my comfort zone. (I think Push by Sapphire did that, though.) I didn’t feel like I really learned very much from this book, aside from how parts of Turkey can be so vastly different from other parts.

      And no, your impression isn’t off at all. I believe I mentioned that the circumstances surrounding Meryem’s treatment as a Muslim woman was just a way to perpetuate the stereotypes of Muslim women that many Westerners have. But yes, I think that you put it perfectly when you said the book “perpetuated prejudices without adding anything to it.” Sometimes others can say exactly what I mean after I babble on and can’t get it quite right 🙂

      • That’s a real shame – I normally would jump at a book like this but I like to learn and experience the world from a foreign perspective, and many times these books seem almost westernised. Though I like that it showed Turkey’s many different facets – I was so disappointed reading Theodora because I didn’t get a sense of place at all, and culture-wise it could have been set almost anywhere. It’s such a fascinating place and it’s at the top of my list for a visit.

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