A Pale View of Hills 

Dulwich Hill branch manager, radio personality, and book selling superstar, Morgan Smith tells us how it is.

July 2019

 - Tuesday, June 25, 2019
Quite coincidentally, I read two books this month by Turkish women. The first, Walking on the Ceiling by young writer Aysegul Savas (who teaches at the Sorbonne and lives in Paris), is a meditative novel which resides in the company of Asymmetry by Lisa Halliday, Olivia Laing’s Crudo and The Friend, by Sigrid Nunez. I loved those books which I’ve written about before and Walking on the Ceiling garners as much admiration from me. Set in Paris and Istanbul it is a gentle story about Nunu, a young writer who meets an older, more famous writer she admires for his novels about Istanbul. A platonic friendship begins and they flâneur their way around Paris while talking about all manner of things. Nunu, especially, looks back on her life in Istanbul, her father’s suicide and her relationship with her odd, withdrawn mother.  Now, living back Istanbul, she writes subtly about how that beautiful city is being destroyed by the new regime hungry for progress at whatever cost. A truly beautiful book.

While I’ve read and enjoyed the work of the famous Turkish writer, Orhan Pamuk, I had never read his female counterpart (in skill and fame) Elif Shafak (Forty Rules of Love). In her new novel, tantalisingly titled, 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World, Shafak writes compassionately and clear-eyed about Leyla, a prostitute who has been murdered and disposed of in a wheelie-bin in a park in Istanbul. While Leyla’s heart has stopped beating there is still 10 minutres and 38 seconds during which her synapses still fire and she remembers key events in her life and especially, her loving friends. Each memory is sparked by a smell, of cardamom or lemon, coffee or roses. Shafak is known as a very political feminist but she is never didactic. She imbues Leyla with intelligence, warmth and dignity—a woman doing her best to survive in a city and culture which shuns women such as her—just as her father disowned her after she argued against his increasing devoutness to Islam. Equally as fascinating as Leyla’s story is those of her five friends—people living on the edges of society—whose wonderful but often painful stories, are interwoven with hers. And if this sounds like a sad book, it’s not. There are moments of great beauty, of uplifting kindness, and a great deal of humour. I adored it.

For some time I had been hearing good things about An American Marriage by Tayari Jones, so when I heard it had won the British Women’s Prize (once the Orange) I knew I must read it. African-Americans, Celestial and Roy are not dirt poor—she’s an artist and he’s in marketing—but being middle class does not protect them from the forces of the American justice system—as on one awful night Roy is arrested and then convicted of murder. How this affects him, Celestial, and everyone around them makes for powerful storytelling. This is a spectacular book about race, about love and commitment and marriage and family and ultimately about what it means to be black in modern America. It’s about how a man’s soul can be destroyed but how he can still have hope, about how a woman can wish to be loyal, but stuggle with the consequences of that. Brilliant.

A heads up about Dulwich Hill Fair Day on Sunday, September 15th. The dynamic new events managers for the Inner West Council have asked us to put together a children’s writers program. There’ll be a dedicated tent and we’ll have a mini children’s writers festival! Put the date in your diary now. I already have a few fantastic local writers locked in and more to be announced! See you on D’Hill! Morgan