Posts Tagged With: expats

“Silk Armor” by Claire Sydenham

Silk Armor is the story of Claire Sydenham, an American woman teaching English in Turkey.  While she is there, she observes the relationship between her colleague Victor and Didem, one of her students.  Victor and Didem’s relationship is tragic and destructive, highlighting the clash between old and new cultural values.

For Didem, romance with Victor is forbidden.  She fears how her father will react when he finds out, knowing that he will beat her (or worse).  For Victor, the affair begins as a fling in another country, but he is tortured by the realization of what it costs Didem.  For Didem and her friends, sexuality isn’t as casual as it can be in America, and just the attitudes surrounding it can have a major impact on one’s future.  There are very real consequences for one’s actions.

Silk Armor is told in a nonlinear manner which can at times be confusing.  The story is mostly told from Claire’s perspective, but it jumps around chronologically and also includes fragments from Victor’s journal.  It is an attempt to shed light on a confusing and difficult situation which has quite clearly had a profound impact on Claire’s life.

Even the minor characters are vivid and complex.  There’s the traditional Segvi, who struggles with her own Muslim faith as she watches Didem rebel.  If she sanction’s Didem’s actions and goes along with them, she feels like she is betraying and minimizing her faith.  Then there’s Didem’s first love, the former goatherd Mustafa.  He’s also a draft dodger, so he lives an impermanent and nomadic lifestyle, sleeping on friends’ couches and working at a bar.  Even though he seems like his life isn’t put together, he is stronger than he appears, and has been saving the bulk of his pay for a bride price.

The central theme of the novel is the clash between old and new values.  Sydenham doesn’t portray one as being better than the other; each of the characters must struggle with Turkey’s evolving culture and must choose his or her place in it, and the decisions people make aren’t always the ones that are expected.

On the whole, I would recommend Silk Armor despite the confusing narration style.  Before reading the novel, I didn’t know much about life in modern Turkey, but I found myself caught up in the characters’ struggles and wanting to learn more about the world in which they live.

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I received a copy of Silk Armor by Claire Sydenham from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Categories: Fiction | Tags: , , , , , , | 4 Comments

“Necessary Errors” by Caleb Crain

I received a review copy of Caleb Crain’s novel Necessary Errors in exchange for an honest review.

Jacob Putnam is a young expat teaching English in the Czech Republic.  He went there because he was inspired by the ideas of the revolution, but he’s too late, and instead witnesses the country’s transition from socialism to capitalism.

The plot of the novel isn’t exciting, but it isn’t meant to be.  It’s supposed to capture the atmosphere of what it was like to be in Prague during a transitional period, and the characters’ own lives and experiences are a reflection of the country’s.  We see Jacob searching for love and companionship in a gay nightclub, only to become disillusioned by the people he meets as he finds out why they’re really there.  We see characters who feel lost, wondering if Prague is the right place for them or whether they should travel to a different country.  We see relationships form between different members of the expats’ social circle.  Each character discovers the fine line between possibility and reality as they meander through their lives with no destination in mind.  Even the city itself is in a transitional period, and the transition between socialism and capitalism is portrayed simultaneously as  freedom and lost innocence.

Even though the plot is slow, Crain’s writing creates a vivid atmosphere, and it’s the kind of atmosphere that I’d like to be a part of.  Necessary Errors reminds me of my own experience studying abroad in Russia.  The descriptions of daily life in Prague make me miss Eastern Europe, and make me hope that I might one day be able to travel there again.

Categories: Fiction | Tags: , , , , , , | 8 Comments

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