Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Dervish House by Ian McDonald

This is not the type of book I usually read. It's dense and meandering, political and religious. I was certain that I would put it aside, and yet, something made me finish it.

The description is overladen and reminds me of books I've read set in India. Too many people, smells, sounds, wants. It works. The city, Istanbul, has so many layers, it needs a lot of modifiers. It is a character in itself. The texture and flavor of the city leans heavily on any action of the characters.

The narrative wanders into flashbacks so suddenly that I would have scolded him, if he was in my writing group. And yet, for this story of many nationalities, many religions, many languages, it works.

And anchoring all the feverish activity of the city are the repetitious mundane tasks of the day - the men drink tea, the young people look for work, a child plays with his toys. I think that repetition was helpful in giving me something to hold on to under the barrage of numbers and plots and odd foreign words.

None of the foreign words are explained, yet I soon picked up bey as perhaps sir and cadessi is probably street. The names are difficult, but the characters are well enough drawn that I could sort them out.

This reads like it takes place on another planet for me. The country, the city, the people with their traditions, superstitions and religions are so wonderfully exotic. And drawn so vividly.

A wonderful book. Read it and let it take you out of your American self.

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