I read this book because it had been sitting on my to-read list for years and I'm really trying to downsize it so that I can make actual use of it. I kind of wish I had "downsized" this book.
By all outward measures I should have liked it. It's history and memoir. It deals with the little-known genocide & exiles conducted against Christian (in this case Pontic Greek but also Assyrian) minorities in Turkey. A review from the Washington Post Book World says, "It is impossible to read the story of this woman's life without marveling at the strength of her spirit." It gets starred reviews from Booklist and Publishers Weekly. And really high reviews here on Goodreads. But I still found it lacking.
Even people who love the book note that the writing is not anything special. The book is written in Thea Halo's first person as well as by Thea talking in first person pretending she is her mother, Sano. So that part is kind of awkward and the writing is almost completely lackluster. I'm willing to overlook that in a lot of cases, especially cases similar to this one where the power of the story outweighs lack of skillful writing. So where the book fell flat for me, I guess, can be summed up by two words: rape apologism. Sano is married off at age 15 (or maybe 14; in either case she won't start menstruating for another 2 years) to a 45 year old stranger who promptly rapes her. And physically abuses her on numerous occasions that she mentions in the book
. He also verbally abuses her on several occasions that she mentions
. He hits and whips their children. She relates a time that he won't "let" her go to the movies with her (female) friend. He abandons her, 40 & pregnant, for months, after giving her the cold shoulder, because he mistakenly thought she had sex with a doctor who examined her. And he didn't tell her about it until 20 years later. Yet all sorts of excuses are made for his behavior. "Oh he felt his growing children slipping away." "I just didn't know how embarrassed he was by my affection." "Oh but he made this garden with his bare hands." "He was so smart, he was better at chemistry than his chemistry teacher." It's gross. And of course I realize that this is the reality that a lot of women had/have. Covering for abusers is par for the course. But this is not treated at all in the book. The words abuse and rape aren't mentioned at all (well, there is a passing mention of Turks raping Greeks, but I guess if a total stranger buys you from the family you live with and forces himself on you it's A-OK as far as Thea Halo is concerned!). Instead, Thea says, "Don't you realize Dad loved you?? Don't you?? HE LOVED YOU, MOM. WELL?" Lady, your mom just confided in you you about how she was raped and abused by this guy and your response is to try and force her into saying that he loved her? Gross.
So Sano's spirit may be strong, but this story is not triumphant or redemptive. Even the "happy ending" is really fucking depressing. It is about one perseverant, displaced, downtrodden woman who went through a whole lot of nasty and really really loves her kids. She seems pretty rad. I'm sorry it was Thea who told her story.
5 stars for Sano, 1 or 2 stars for Thea's writing but 0 for her misogyny, 4 stars for the book's first 200 pages, and maybe 1 or 2 stars for the last 125.