HUGH – Standing Europe’s Muslim integration debate on its head

Standing Europe’s Muslim integration debate on its headSometimes a novel can get across what othersandrsquo lives are like more indelibly than the best-written news story. Thatandrsquos certainly the case for the Turkish-Dutch marriage at the heart of Jessica JJ Lutzandrsquos new novel andldquoDe Nederlandse bruidandrdquo (De Geus, 2014).

Like good non-fiction, the confident handling of a faraway culture has clearly been years in the making and draws on decades of experience. But a well-told tale transports the reader more completely to the heart of a normally inaccessible group of characters.

And at a time when Europe is struggling with questions of Muslim, Turkish and other integration, it neatly flips the debate on its head by following a European migrant into Muslim lands.The story of andldquoThe Bride from Hollandandrdquo is that of a young Dutchwoman, Emma, an under-employed recent university graduate who decides to follow love and the star of her fate.

When her fellow-student boyfriend has to wrap up his studies in Holland suddenly and take over his dying fatherandrsquos business, she leaves her homeland behind and travels east to stand at his side in his new job: Clan lord of a remote Euphrates mountain valley in Turkeyandrsquos Kurdish borderlands.Despite her privileges, Emma soon finds she has exchanged the middle-class comforts of north Europe for hard work, chronic feuding, codes of family honor, everyday deaths, loves, jealousies, suffocating traditions and lies that live for generations — the kind of all-or-nothing society that Shakespeare had to go to mediaeval Italy to find.

For days after finishing the story, I couldnandrsquot shake this completely convincing world out of my head and wished that I could have stayed a part of it for longerThe tightly woven plot is seamlessly sustained — a wedding, a murder, a suicide, adultery, treachery, ancient gold, a road, a mountain insurgentsandrsquo war and more — without losing for a moment a sense of Turkeyandrsquos intimate, audio-visual reality. People live vividly in the present tense but are unable to cut themselves off from their past.

And along the way, a first-disoriented Emma is forced to grow up, find herself and discover that even today, eastern-marcher lords and their ladies, like everyone else, have many a dragon to slay before they can hope to secure their realm or riches.A rural community in Turkey is no easy place to discover on oneandrsquos own.

Much is left unsaid to outsiders and more drama unfolds inside it than is apparent on the surface of poor concrete houses and chaotic family smallholdings. Jessica Lutz draws characters as they are, without a wasted word or a hint of condescension.

The polished plot sweeps smoothly from the Rhine estuary commuter town of Ijsselstein to the ancient hill country of Gerger, overlooking what is now the huge lake of Euphrates river water backed up behind the Ataturk Dam The narrative is propelled forward by sharp, gripping dialogue that crackles with humor and cunning.Thereandrsquos one such comic moment after a series of misunderstandings at the wedding, including a bottle of goatandrsquos blood, when the bridegroom has to exclaim to his headstrong new wife: andldquoListen, here we donandrsquot get married for pleasure.

andrdquo Later, hearing tales of past battles when touring their new hardscrabble domains, Emma asks why the village clansmen no longer spend their winters pursuing heavily armed blood feuds. She is told simply: andldquoThereandrsquos television now.

andrdquo Above all, what comes through is a Turkish Kurd community that is obviously very different in its concerns about religion and honor from Dutch society but also principally motivated by much the same things as Europeans: power, love, land, jobs, money — and quick illicit profit if it might be got away with.Lucky Dutch readers, who are already able to devour this book: Buy it now! And producers of Turkish sitcoms, you need look no further for your next dramatic story.

As for those worried Europeans who struggle to make sense of how their societies are becoming ever further intertwined with those of their Muslim countries to the east, I hope one day you will get the chance to read andldquoThe Bride from Holland.andrdquo Europeans are right to be worried by the problems of slow development in their eastern neighborhood.

But thereandrsquos a lot Europeans may not know and above all do not feel about their neighbors. When they finish a rare book like this, truly and elegantly able to reflect the inner dynamics of Anatolian society, theyandrsquoll find that they are a lot less scared.

*Hugh Pope is the author of books on Turkey, the Turkic world and the Middle East. He is also the husband of Jessica JJ Lutz.

SOURCE: Today’s Zaman