If you did not get a chance to read Pasadena’s One City One Story choice for 2010 in time for the events on March 14, it’s a good read any time: accessible, dramatic and fascinating.
Gardens of Water takes place in a distant, lower-class suburb of Istanbul during the devastating Marmara earthquake of 1999. First-time novelist Alan Drew creates compelling and complex characters, the best of whom are the Kurdish father, Sinan, recently arrived in the city, and his daughter, Irem. The terrible earthquake is only the beginning of a tense drama that connects an American family irrevocably, and heartbreakingly, with this Turkish one. The fast-moving plot keeps interest high as characters’ (and readers’) fundamental assumptions about love, faith, loyalty, tradition, politics and culture are tested again and again.
Author Drew is an American who arrived to teach in Turkey just four days before the real earthquake; he stayed for three years. He is as equally skilled at describing the chaotic allure of Istanbul as he is at depicting the chaotic aftermath of the quake, which overwhelmed the government as well as the people. His sympathies and imagination clearly are with his Turkish characters; the Americans in the story, with the notable exception of the mother, are not nearly as captivating – nor are they as straightforward.
Coming as it does on the heels of Haiti and Conception, and with our area’s own seismic issues, the book’s unflinching depiction of a city and its citizens struggling for survival is eye-opening. Besides making you run out to replenish your family’s earthquake survival kit, it sparks great discussions about family, war and assimilation, and can be read with relish by sophisticated junior highers and older.
Gardens of Water, by Alan Drew (Random House, $14), is available at all local bookstores.