Sunday, February 24, 2008

Gardens of Water by Alan Drew

It always amazes me that after a disaster, such as the earthquake in this novel, religious people thank God and call him merciful for sparing them. Where is the mercy in allowing the earthquake at all? In fact, I would like to ask intelligent design advocates of the intelligence behind hurricanes, tornados, and earthquakes. This novel is full of people thanking a merciful God without much thought to the lack of mercy shown to the more than 17,000 people crushed in the terrible 1999 Marmara earthquake and its aftershocks.

At times I was annoyed at the Christians using a disaster as an opportunity to convert people who only want to be left alone. During a conversation between father (Sinan) and his son, Ismael, Sinan asks himself if there is any place we can be left alone. In an interview with the author, he reflects on his visit to Turkey. He arrived four days before the quake, and he seems to chide the Christians for taking advantage of desperate people, yet he places words in the mouth of Marcus, a relief worker, who also tries to convert Ismael, that seems to excuse his behavior, claiming he was only offering hope to the young boy, who was depressed and suffering over all the loss of life around him.

What Drew has done is subtly hint that Christianity is better than Islam because the latter offers no hope. I wonder if this is an example of Christian fiction I have assiduously avoided. I have always been staunchly against missionaries. They have caused enormous damage to cultures, art, artifacts and whole populations over the last 2,000 years. Why missionaries believe they can simply go to a village, or a city, or a foreign country and tell native peoples what they have believed for generations is all wrong, but the missionaries have the correct answer, never ceases to mystify me.

This novel is the third I have read recently in which the characters refer to his or her father as “Baba.” Pashtuns in 20th century Afghanistan, Chinese peasants in the early 19th century, and now Kurds in Turkey in the 1990s.

Gardens is also the third recent read which describes the horrific treatment of women and female children at the hands of males, including fathers and brothers. Ismael and his sister try to break out of the family traditions with an innocent view of the world, life, and love. But this is the ultimate loss that so threatens the Muslim world. If their children turn away from the old ways and the old beliefs, Islam has no future in the eyes of the Muslim fundamentalists. This inability to accept an updating of their beliefs, and acceptance of some modern ways, has stunted growth in the Middle East. These people are refusing to accept the birth pangs of a new way of looking at the world, which the West endured during the Renaissance to throw off the stranglehold the Catholic Church held over Europe in the Middle Ages.

The description of the earthquake is gripping, the exploration of Sinan’s anguish at his losses, are touching, and overall, Alan Drew has written an interesting story, but he is no Orhan Pamuk, the recent Nobel Prize winning author from Turkey. Four stars of five.

--Chiron, 2/24/08

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