People often ask where writers get their ideas for novels, and we writers evade, sidestep, and change the subject, because in fact, ideas come from so deep within that we often don’t know what inspired them. In the case of The Turkish Mirror, I was visiting my parents one day and found a mirror on my mother’s dresser, given to her the summer we lived in Turkey. It reminded me of a tumultuous year of my childhood.
In 1969, several of my father’s graduate students were in the Peace Corps, and they invited our family to tour Kenya, Africa. There was a revolution going on in Kenya, but being innocently and blissfully American we loaded into Land Rovers and traveled anyway, driving through a land torn apart by inter-tribal slaughter. Sometimes we were under armed warlord guard (think rifles), sometimes with Masai or Kikuyu protectors (think spears). I was eleven years old, and the combination of unbelievable sunsets, lions prowling around camp, the gory violence of war, the beauty of the land, the generosity of the people who protected us, the food (goat stomach, and cows blood with tea) – was overwhelming for a child. This adventure set the tone of my eleventh year, and inspired me to PAY ATTENTION, because life was amazing (and possibly short).
We then went on to Paris for my father’s work, living on scant funds (eating soup and bread – but then, even soup is fantastic in France). My brother and I attended an international school for diplomats' children, where our common language was French. Imagine the contrast: from sleeping on desert sand surrounded by a hastily made fence of thorn bushes, to sauntering the Champs Elyse with the offspring of the world’s elite. I put on my expensive school uniform and discovered that I could adapt, and adapt again.
By the summer of 1970 our money was truly gone. We had several months before we could go home, so a friend of my father’s invited us to stay in a tiny Turkish fishing village on the Mediterranean. It was beautiful and dirt cheap. She was a journalist who had just been released from prison in China, and she went to Turkey to hide from the world, recover, and heal. My father had work to finish in Paris, so my mother, my brother, and I went on ahead. This was a devout Muslim village, with women in kara çarşaf. I would love to say that we understood or acted with respect for the traditions of the villagers, but we were far too bold. My mother is an artist, so she and I spent hours together drawing anything and everything, dressed as summer tourists, disturbingly fearless with our clothing and manners. There were inevitable conflicts and misunderstandings – two females wandering about unescorted. But there were also adventures, kindnesses, and people we came to love.
So forty years later when I picked up my mother’s Turkish mirror, I decided to write a tiny piece of my past. I put moments of that year into a jar, shook hard, and people, events, languages, tastes and smells, loves and misunderstandings, were all rearranged. Did the events in The Turkish Mirror happen? No. Did the people exist as they were written? No. But the spirit of what I experienced is captured, and I pass it to you. Enjoy.
For photos of my family in Kenya, 1969, see below.