Thank-you to NetGalley and Amazon Crossing for my advanced reading edition of this translated novel. Ayşe Kulin is a contemporary Turkish novelist and this novel is based upon her own family’s history. It has been translated into English by Kenneth Dakan.
Love in Exile tells the story of a Muslim family living in Istanbul in the 1920s. The establishment of the Republic of Turkey in 1923 meant that this was a period of great social and political upheaval for the people of Turkey. I enjoyed reading about the varying perspectives of the changes that were taking place, as each member of the family has a very different outlook. Each one of them has their own unique story to tell and the reader is thrown head first into the midst of them all, which meant for quite a bit of confusion at times. There is a helpful genealogy table at the beginning that I kept referring back to in order to keep everybody’s names straight and to familiarize myself with the relationship between each family member. Nonetheless, there were still times I found myself at a loss as to who exactly an individual was.
One of the female protagonists of the novel, Sabahat, is an intelligent young woman with a strong sense of self. She insists upon pursuing her education through high school and beyond. The reader is made aware that this was unusual for a Muslim girl living in Istanbul in the 1920s and thus the reader cannot help but admire her father for being so progressive and allowing his daughter her education. However, he is still a man of his time and he is devastated to find that his daughter has fallen in love with an Armenian boy. The Turkish-Armenian War is still fresh in many minds and therefore Sabahat and Aram find a lot of opposition to their relationship. Her father is particularly against it as Aram is a Christian and it is unthinkable for Sabahat not to marry another Muslim.
Overall I found this aspect of the story to be the most captivating and I was desperate to see if the relationship between Sabahat and Aram was strong enough to withstand everything that was thrown their way. Unfortunately their story became lost in the middle of so many others and I didn’t receive the closure that I would have liked from their story. In the epilogue the author briefly tells the reader what happened, but I very much would have liked for it to have been a part of the novel itself.
Perhaps Sabahat and Aram’s story takes a step back from being the focal point in order for the author to tell us more about a different couple. Sitare and Muhittin are two people that we follow separately through the pages of this novel until they eventually meet and marry. Sitare is Sabahat’s niece and therefore the two grow up in the same household, along with the rest of their very large family. Muhittin is a Muslim of Bosnian decent. His parents fled Bosnia before the Balkan Wars of 1912/1913 and were therefore spared from being caught up in a period of deep savagery. Muhittin was educated in Istanbul and becomes a very successful civil engineer. We follow both Muhittin and Sitare’s lives until their marriage and the birth of their daughter, Ayşe: the author of this novel. I cannot blame the author for wanting to tell her parents’ story.
Ultimately I did enjoy this novel and I was fascinated by this glimpse into such a compelling era of history. Sadly I spent a fair bit of time confused and had to go back and re-read different parts of the novel to try to understand who a person was or why they were doing what they were doing. I would recommend reading a brief history of the time period before you read, which is something I ended up doing as I was reading in order to give myself a better understanding of the novel itself.