"Reading is the sole means by which we slip, involuntarily, often helplessly,into another's skin, another's voice, another's soul" - Joyce Carol Oates.
How aptly said. We have all experienced this feeling, this helplessness, not once, but several times in the hands of many a story-teller. My first brush with story telling and the amazing world of books was through Babaji, my paternal grandfather, who was a story teller par excellence. He made the whole experience interesting with his special sound effects and voice modulations. Undoubtedly, one of my very precious childhood memories.
This book, Gardens Of Water caught my eye in Crossword(a bookstore in my city, Kolkata) where I had taken my two girls for their stationery shopping. It's bright yellow cover literally made me stop and pick it up and once I read it's synopsis, I had to buy it. Vamika, my older daughter made fun of me, saying that I can never leave a bookstore without buying a book or two. True but not something which embarrasses me.
Let's talk shop now - Gardens Of Water by Alan Drew is a story set in Turkey and is about a Kurdish family who had to flee from their homeland and were now residing in the suburbs of Istanbul. Sanin, runs a grocery with his brother-in-law Ahmet, his wife Nilofer, manages the house and they have two children- Ismail, a young, happy, lively 9year old boy and Irem, a beautiful 15year old girl, who feels that her father only loves Ismail and she hates being cooped up in the house all day long working along with her mother. Sinan is working hard to provide for his family and at the same time is finding it very difficult to put a check on Irem's growing resentment and frustration on the restrictions imposed on her. To add to Sinan's problems is an American family who live in the same building as Sinan. Irem is attracted to Dylan, the young son of the American couple. The delicate stability of this family is shattered away when a massive earthquake hits the area where Sinan is living with his family. In the wake of this natural disaster, Sinan looses his home and his livelihood, and is forced to take shelter in the temporary camp set up by the American missionaries working in that area. It is here in this camp, Sinan, who distrusts the Americans but is forced to accept their help, finds himself in situations, which are dangerous not only in the physical sense but also on ethical and moral grounds. Nilofer and Sinan find themselves very helpless in the face of such situations and are forced to take some very dangerous and frightening decisions which alter their lives forever.
Turkey , it's culture, it's people, their religious sentiments, their ideologies, their belief - author Alan Drew has done a good job in depicting it all with the right amount of emotion.
Whenever I read a book, there is always this one character with whom I can totally relate with. Here, it is Sinan, the father. The pride of a father for his children, the protective streak of a parent for his children, the helpless anger in the face of a rebelling child, the unconditional love for his children- these are emotions which as a mother I can totally empathise with. Though I cannot comment as to how I would ideally react to any of the situation Drew writes in his book, but , I can surely understand the angst, the love, the anger, the sense of ultimate betrayal which Sanin feels in the course of this story. At the same time, one can truly empathise with Irem and the reasons why she chose to rebel against her upbringing and her internal struggle, in doing something which is the opposite of all that she has been taught by her parents. Similarly I can feel the pain of Nilofer, an obedient, dutiful wife and mother who takes immense pride in being declared a good woman by the society and is completely broken when certain incidents occur, post the earthquake in the refugee camp, where they are forced to live on the charity of the missionaries. And then there is young Ismail, who though survives from the clutches of death, is not able to fully recover from the emotional and mental scars of the earthquake.
This is a story which is written from the heart. It is not a brilliantly written book which will leave you with a feeling of awe but it is one of those books which will leave you feeling more human. This book will make you realise that though we humans, now belong to the modern civilised society, following societal rules, but , when nature unleashes her fury, then is the actual test of our civilised behaviour , in the face of survival being paramount in the minds of every individual.
There is one line said by a character in this book to Sinan, which sums up my experience of this book. The line goes, " Our children are not ours. That's our mistake. We think they are. It seems so for a while - a few brief years - but they aren't. They never were. "