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Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Book Review: "Dervishes" by Beth Helms

A forgettable, disappointing book with overwrought descriptions and unlikeable characters.

A military-intelligence family (CIA?) is relocated to Ankara, Turkey during the Cold War Era (the early 70’s). Their story is told alternately from the first person perspective of the young adolescent daughter, and then in the third person by this girl’s mother. Both mother and daughter experience the tension of living in very different culture during a tense time in history. Both do their respective best to assimilate and occupy themselves. They make relationships with people, both locals and ex-pats, who eventually embroil them is subtly subversive activities. Events unfold to reveal circumstances bigger than mother and daughter have any power over, and they separately find themselves embroiled in life-shifting consequences. Mother and daughter, not close to begin with, are driven even further apart emotionally.

While an appealing premise with lots of promise, ultimately this story doesn’t work. The author valiantly attempts to “show” rather than “tell” the reader what is going on (as she should), but the reader isn’t shown enough. The characters fall flat to the point of barely existing at all. They never flesh out; there is no resonating human experiential “truth” emerging from the story. I was left with a great many questions at the book’s conclusion, including the following: what happens to the characters, both major and minor, after their departure from Ankara? How are they changed? What, in the end, is the point of this story at all?


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