Kurban Said





Translated from the German by Jenia Graman
Overlook Press, 2001
Reviewed by Joy Calderwood

Romantic Fiction, Europe 1938

Exiled in Berlin, a young Turkish woman floats between the culture she was born to, in which she is the daughter of a Pasha and betrothed to a Prince, and the European culture in which she enjoys the freedom to walk the streets alone and study at the University. Lacking the guardianship of her aged father, the inexperienced girl is courted and falls in love with a doctor who has wholeheartedly adopted Western culture and abandoned the Muslim faith of his family. But Asiadeh is a young woman who wants above all to do right. She obtains the permission of everyone involved before she marries him.

One might be tempted to feel sorry for Dr. Hassa, putty in the hands of his innocent but harem trained wife, except that he is so obviously ecstatic to be married to this bewitching enigma. He sustains shock after shock with equanimity, as Asiadeh learns her way around his world. He isnít able to guide her as closely as he would like to, because he has a very busy physicianís practice.

One day the prince to whom Asiadeh had been betrothed appears at her restaurant table. He is blunt, imperious, and smitten, and no woman of his culture could have resisted him. But Asiadeh is a woman who wants above all to do right. Within the strictures of her two cultures, she must find a way to arrange the happiness of everyone who deserves it, so that she can have her own. The reader gets the fun of finding out what she chooses and how she will arrange it.

This charming story has a special climate, right from the smell of old books described on the first page. In the beginning it carries the cloud of sadness that hangs around the group of Arab expatriates. It acquires a hidden twinkle as Asiadeh begins to take control of her world, becomes a definite avuncular pride, and ends triumphantly with Asiadeh, sweet and humble as ever, in possession of everything she desires.

The story of THE GIRL FROM THE GOLDEN HORN travels from Germany to the Slavic states to Austria, with flashbacks to Turkey and a side plot in America. It was written in 1938, and clearly reflects the time and travels of at least one of the authors. This gives us a chance to see the western and middle eastern worlds the way the authors saw them. Asiadeh and Hassa fence in a Berlin cafeteria, Hassaís female relatives tremble as they serve tea to his princess bride in Bosnia, the first Mrs. Hassa challenges acquaintances in an Austrian hotel, and Prince John Rolland encounters camels in Casablanca. The pictures are authentic to the last poster and cobblestone.

Jenia Graman has provided English speakers with a rich translation that surely does justice to the German original. Kurban Said is believed to be the pen name of a writing team of an Arab expatriate man and an Austrian countess. Their story on the book flap is exciting but undocumented, and one is tempted to imagine a story for oneself, involving a romantic association between two out-of-place people trying to find a home of the heart under the dislocating influence of Nazi Germany.

Apr 2002 Review Originally Published On the Independent Reviews Site


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