Sunday, June 27, 2004

Halide Edib Adivar

I finished reading Halide's Gift, by Frances Kazan (wife of Elia Kazan, as we are reminded in the book jacket bio and in every other reference to this book). She states:

My novel is loosely based on the early life of Halide Edib Adivar, writer, scholar and Turkish nationalist; but Halide's Gift must not be read as fact. . . The real life Halide did not possess the gift. Apart from describing frequent visits to the fortuneteller with her Grandmother, Halide made no reference to mystical interests in either her memoir, or her writing. Her gift came from my imagination.

The "gift" does not belong in this book. Halide's story should be compelling enough.

Kazan's writing is not compelling. Rather than weave an intricate backdrop of political turmoil, chunks of Turkish history are tossed in inexpertly. They interrupt the story more than they enhance our understanding of the times in which Halide lived.

(I find myself thinking Kazan was striving for but failing to achieve the kind of magic found in Moonlight on the Avenue of Faith, by Gina B Nahai — a story of women of strength and great resource amid difficult times, with an "exotic" sociocultural flavour.)

Halide Edip Adivar was a real person — a remarkable woman — witness to, and agent of, the modernization of Turkey. I find myself wishing to hear her tale told by a master storyteller such as Amin Maalouf.

In the meantime, pure fact will have to do:

A brief biography of Halide Edip Adivar: The Republic of Turkey Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Halide Edib was active in the women's movement prior to the War of Independence, establishing the Society for the elevation of Women in 1908. She dedicated herself to the improvement of education for Turkish women and to furthering relations between them and European women. She was also involved in relief efforts for women and their families left hungry and homeless by war. But it was her fiery address to the women of Istanbul at the famous Sultanahmet meeting of 1919 following the occupation of Izmir which left the strongest mark on people's minds. From that point on she no longer lived as a private individual.

A historical overview of the women's status in Turkish society: Daughters of Ataturk.

A pioneer of women's literature: The Turkish Daily News.

Women writers were rebellious, criticizing the power of men in Turkish culture and acknowledging the importance of women. On sensitive subjects such as marriage and other moral issues they were cautious in voicing their criticisms, but they criticized nonetheless. In creating female characters, they wanted to demonstrate the talents of women, which were often hidden in a male-dominated society. At a time in which women were generally not permitted an education — only a few lucky women were taught by special tutors — these writers wrote about women who could play musical instruments, speak different languages and talk freely about political and other intellectual issues. They wanted to rescue women who were suppressed and possessed by men.

English translations of Halide's work, fiction and nonfiction, are hard to come by.

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