Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Oh, the Damage We Do in the name of our Gods

Since Sept. 11, 2001, there has been an outpouring of novels that attempt to aid thinking Americans in their understanding of Islam as both a culture and a religion. Book groups have glombed onto these titles in record numbers and for several years my group of deep reading women gave it their all. Recently though, they've asked if we could lighten up and so we will. Our upcoming titles are decidedly American in scope what with Olive Kitteridge, Union Atlantic, So Much for That and Blame, just to mention a few.

For myself, though, I'm still trying to make sense of various religions and how they've affected life, really from the beginning of recorded history. It's not a very pretty picture. Most recently I finished listening to a very disturbing book that I was initially drawn to just because of the cover, though the story was right up my alley. Gardens of Water by Alan Drew takes place in a small Turkish community outside Istanbul. Nine year old Ismail is being prepared for his coming of age ceremony, his circumcision, and the entire town is invited to this huge landmark celebration.

But for fifteen year old Irem, the daughter of the household, no such ceremony will ever be held. She can never expect to be the light of her parents' eyes as Ismail, the boy child is, and she knows that the future holds little for her except perhaps a suitable husband and a life of servitude. The jacket copy refers to Irem as headstrong and that really ticked me off right out of the gate. Is it headstrong to have a brain and be able to deduce that one's life is circumscribed by an accident of birth? Grrrrr

Her desire to feel more and experience more than her circumstances will allow is exacerbated by a budding relationship with Dylan, an American boy who lives in the upstairs apartment with his parents who are teachers and missionaries in Turkey. They have lived in the country for thirty years and appear to be deeply respectful of the fine line that separates them from the locals, but all that changes after a devastating earthquake shakes the village to its foundations.

An accident of Fate, or was it God's will, irrevocably binds Dylan's and Irem's families together and as the two young people spend more time together, Irem's family faces disgrace over their daughter's actions, and Irem's father Sinan is torn between his love for his daughter and the pressure to abide by the cultural laws of the land. At the same time, Dylan's father Marcus is in a position to help Sinan take care of his family by offering American made food and shelter, thereby adding to Sinan's sense of shame that he is unable to do this for himself.

Author Alan Drew does an admirable job of examining the conflicts and similarities between the Christian and Islamic sense of God, painting the irony of the two factions praying to their Gods in different buildings while using the same words, speaking of Heaven vs. Paradise, the hope of life after death, the belief that suffering on this earth will be rewarded in the next (that's one I never could cotton to!).

Tensions in the refugee camp are ratcheted up as more and more little Kurdish boys show up with gold crosses around their necks and biblical coloring books. Sinan and Marcus become so intent on the fight for Ismail's soul that they fail to notice that Dylan and Irem are on a downward path of no return. As I said, this is a very disturbing but thought-provoking read. It's not for everyone and I can't recommend it as such and if you're a searcher for understanding and answers, Gardens of Water may actually leave you with even more questions. Oh what the heck, go for it!

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