Tuesday, February 17, 2015

A Canadian's Journey into the Kurdish Struggle: A Review of The Word not Spoken


TORONTO, Canada—When a Canadian backpacker arrives in Turkey, she has no idea that meeting a charismatic Kurd will change her life forever.  
That is the gist of Laurie Fraser’s debut novel, The Word Not Spoken, a semi-autobiographical story taken from bits of her own life: the Canadian married a Kurd in Turkey in the 1990s.
In the book, Fraser tells the story through Leigh, her main character who falls deeply for the handsome, unpredictable and reckless Ahmet, a Kurd who communicates fluently with tourists, finds them places to stay and sells them carpets. It is only after their rushed marriage that Leigh finds her husband is a freedom fighter, a member of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
Ahmet uses the opportunity with tourists to educate them about Kurds and the human rights abuses in Turkey, and he encourages journalists to write about the Kurdish cause. When he sees Turkish police in Istanbul beating a Kurdish man for money, he does not hesitate to step forward, yell at the officers and threaten them, acting as if he is “somebody” and has some mysterious power. He is able to save the Kurd, and when Leigh asks why, Ahmet only responds: “Look around. Do you see someone can help? No.”
 Laurie Fraser

Although at first completely opposed to violence, witnessing the Kurdish situation in Turkey helps Leigh understand how a group of powerless people can be left without any resource but violence in order to attract the world’s attention to their destitute state. The book, however, does not shy away from calling this “a dirty war” or “poor men’s war.” Leigh gains new insight into a situation coldly dismissed by the rest of the world.
“She figured she’d finally begun thinking Turkish because violence seemed acceptable in certain circumstances; she’d been typically Canadian, blanketly opposed to all violence… It was fear that led to violence, she understood now, and Canadians didn’t know much about fear.”
The captivating novel with its deftly crafted descriptions recounts transformations and epiphanies. Leigh witnesses that traveling from western Turkey to the Kurdish region in the east is like traveling from a first-world to a third-world country.
A few days after her wedding she runs into a group of Kurds whose village has been burnt by the Turkish army. Now homeless and hungry, they have camped in the middle of nowhere, drenched under the rain, having no warm clothes.
“Children crowded close. They stared at Leigh, and Leigh stared back at them from her wet foam seat. Their faces and clothes were filthy. Hair stood straight out or up in tangled clumps. One little boy with a cleft lip grinned widely at her. His feet were bare and he was ankle-deep in the cold mud. A white tooth stuck out of his cleft lip. His oversized suit jacket reached to the ground.”
On the way back Ahmet asks Leigh: “Do you see where guerrillas come from?” Leigh responds, “An inhumane place.” It is after seeing this that Leigh changes. “He had shown her his work, his good reason to be brave. She would be there for him, she knew, no matter what.”
The Word Not Spoken is vivid and engaging. The 600-page book takes the reader by the hand, inside Turkish society, to experience Leigh’s culture shock in Cappadocia, where she has no oven or hot water. Readers can relate to Ahmet’s passionate fight for freedom -- despite his family’s assimilation – and see his insane courage, his impenetrable faith, his weakness and peculiarities. The author does not judge Ahmet, Leigh or other characters. Rather, they are presented with their complexities and contradictions and readers are left alone to make their own inferences.
With strong action, a beautiful interplay between fiction and reality, The Word Not Spoken awes readers, evoking tears and laughter.  While a romantic adventure, the book is an exploration of the culture and politics of Kurds and Turkey. The strong attraction keeps Ahmet and Leigh together, despite their cultural gaps and diverse personalities.
The dialogue is written in the imperfect language skills of people for whom English is a foreign language, lending authenticity to the book. The distinct voices of characters allow readers to identify the speakers before reaching the end of the line. 
Fraser is a poet, novelist and educator based in Ottawa, Canada. Although the book is a novel and not a memoir, readers never know where fiction takes over from the author’s real life experiences.
The end result is a book that is political, suspenseful, romantic and humorous. 

To learn more about the writer or to purchase your copy visit http://www.lauriefraser.com
This article was originally published at http://rudaw.net/english/culture/17022015

1 comment:

Laurie Fraser said...

Oh Ava, this review brings tears to my eyes...My husband would be so grateful to you for how you've presented his story and shared his words. Yes, sure, it is my story too and my words too...but it would never have written if not for him- his insistence that "the world needs to know". Thank you helping to spread The Word.- Laurie