Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Book Review: In Turkey I Am Beautiful

In Turkey I Am Beautiful is the travel memoir of Brenda Shanahan about his year spent traveling Turkey, including the obscure and often scary eastern region and living in Istanbul while working at a carpet shop. His views of Turkey and the adventures he had while traveling there are humorous, often times reminding me of memoirist David Sedaris. Like Sedaris, Shanahan can be equally crude and offensive. Many times throughout the book he actually makes himself seem ignorant and heartless, making light of things like the death of babies during the Armenian Genocide. 

I didn't find the author very likable for several other reasons. Here's the reasons why:

1. Constant moaning about hangovers. This is a personal pet peeve of mine and maybe not entirely the authors fault. But, he just seems so immature. He parties almost every night while he's in Istanbul, getting drunk until the early hours of the morning and then the next day whines on and on about how he's so hungover. Grow up!

2. He uses too many curse words. Expand your vocabulary!

3. Insensitive and makes light of serious things. 

4. He claims he's so poor, yet he has enough money to take a year off from life to travel around Turkey. Granted he does seem very frugal, but all the expenses of traveling for a year have to be astronomical. Even while he was living in the carpet shop, he still had a home in Australia which is going to have bills like rent or a mortage, I'm guessing. Not to mention, he seems to only eat out and he often buys the meal for his friend too. Plus, all the partying and drinking. Cha-ching!

5. He seems to be down on Christians. If you're not Christian, that's fine but that doesn't mean you can't still be tolerant. He also makes a rude comment about Christian Rock being the worse type of music he's ever heard. Again, this is his opinion and he's entitled to it, but the way I see it is if he's not Christian then Christian music isn't his to judge. It wasn't made for him and he's not Christian he's not going to "get" it. Plus, if you took away the lyrics and played just the instrumental track you'd never be able to tell it apart from most mainstream rock. He then goes on to say that after hearing Muslim Rock he's determined that that was even worse. Again, he's not Muslim so it's not his place to judge religious music not meant for him to understand and relate to.

The author also has a very long-winded writing style. His sentences usually have so many commas and are so long that by the end of the sentence I forgot what he was talking about or didn't understand the point he was trying to make. Despite this, he did keep me turning the pages. His travels were definitely interesting. From being caught in the middle of a gunfight to illegally swimming to Armenia. As I mentioned before he is also funny, not laugh-out-loud-while-reading funny, but enough to make you think "ha!" in your mind. The most interesting of his travels to me was definitely eastern Turkey. Despite being told that these cities were dangerous and there was nothing to see there by multiple people, he went to see for himself and was pleasantly surprised for the most part. During his time in the east, he often found himself in some tense situations which made for some intriguing reading. I did find the most boring parts of the book the portions based in Istanbul.

The author actually doesn't make Turkey sound like a place I'd like to visit. The government sounds scary and the cities seem dirty and dangerous and its citizens- the way they're often characterized by the author- don't sound like people I'd really enjoy being around. He describes the Turkish people as being very pushy in both good and bad ways. But, it seems like when they were pushing their hospitality it was actually for their gain rather than the traveler's. Of course, most of these people were trying to sell something and were impoverished and desperate for money. I don't think the author actually set out to sell Turkey as a great vacation destination. He seemed to have been very honest and blunt in his descriptions which as a reader I can appreciate.

I truly love learning about other cultures and the wealth of information, put in an entertaining format, was definitely a saving grace for this book. Prior to reading this book, I honestly knew very little about Turkey. This book definitely expanded my knowledge and understanding of their culture, language, and politics. I love to learn and so I am giving this book 4 out 5 stars, despite the authors flaws. He does have good qualities like he's brave, open-minded (outside of religion), funny, and kind. Shanahan is a great storyteller and he really made me feel like I was traveling right next to him. 

I received an Advanced Reader Copy (ARC) of this book courtesy of NetGalley and Melbourne University Publishing in exchange for an honest review.

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