Thursday, January 23, 2014

Silk Armor by Claire Sydenham

Claire and Victor are Americans who come to Turkey to serve as English teachers.  They become friends as there are not that many other Americans in the small Turkish city where the school is located that they can socialize with.  Each comes with an idealistic viewpoint of what they will be able to accomplish.

Two of their best students are Turkish women, Didem and Sevgi, who grew up together.  They came from the small village of Karaagac and yearn for more than the lives of wives and mothers that is the fate of women there.  It is clear that to change their lives and those traditional expectations they must obtain some education, but female education is frowned upon in their village.  When the economy gets worse, and their village is hit hard fiscally, they see their chance.  The girls take the entrance exam secretly and then present their families with their accomplishment.  The families reluctantly agree to give the girls this chance since the village is dying.  Sevgi will live in the dorm, but Didem's family picks up stakes and moves to Eskishir with her.

The Turkish language does not come easily for Victor and Claire.  Victor hires Didem to give him lessons.  She tells her family that it is Claire she is teaching as they would disapprove of her teaching Victor.  She and Victor fall in love, and soon have plans for Didem to leave Turkey and go with him to the United States.  Claire is pulled into their plans as Didem needs help to study for the foreign student's exam.  Sevgi and Didem's family are excluded from the secret but Sevgi finds out and strongly disapproves.  Disaster occurs as the secret is revealed to the family and the school.

Claire Sydenham has written a compelling, haunting novel about the yearning for different lives and the difficulty of changing one's culture and its expectations.  The characters are familiar even though they live elsewhere, and the reader will be able to relate to them.  The story moves along with the speed of a hurtling train to the disaster that awaits in the clash of cultures.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction, and for those interested in other societies.  The publisher is a new North Carolina publishing house, Old Harbour Press, in Greenville, NC.  If their other choices are as compelling as Silk Armor, they should become successful and an established publisher in the area. 

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