Monday, April 08, 2013

Book Review (#4 of 2013) Told in the Coffee House by Cyrus Adler, Allan Ramsey


This collection of 29 Turkish short stories was first published in 1898. It is a charming look at life in the Ottoman Empire, particularly in Istanbul. What particularly struck me was the co-mingling of Turkish, Armenian, Greek, and Jewish cultures in Turkey in those days. A couple of the stories are credited as being from Armenians and feature Armenians as the protagonists. Anyone living in Turkey should check out this quick historical read as some are timeless, like "The Effects of Rakı," which I paste below in its entirety (those familiar with the "Lion's Milk" can understand the story):

Bekri Mustafe, who lived during the reign of Sultan Selim, was a celebrated toper, and perhaps at that time the only Moslem drunkard in Turkey. Consequently, he was often the subject of conversation in circles both high and low. It happened that his Majesty the Sultan had occasion to speak to Bekri one day, and he asked him what pleasure he found in drinking so much raki, and why he disobeyed the laws of the Prophet. Bekri replied that raki was a boon to man; that it made the deaf to hear, the blind to see, the lame to walk, and the poor rich, and that he, Bekri, when drunk, could hear, see, and walk like two Bekris. The Sultan, to verify the truth of this statement, sent his servants into the highways to bring four men, the one blind, the other deaf, the third lame, and the fourth poor. Directly these were brought, his Majesty ordered raki to be served to them in company with Bekri. They had not been drinking long when, to the glory of Bekri, the deaf man said: "I hear the sound of great rumbling."
And the blind man replied: "I can see him; it is an enemy who seeks our destruction."
The lame man asked where he was, saying, "Show him to me, and I will quickly despatch him."
And the poor man called out: "Don't be afraid to kill him; I've got his blood money in my pocket."
Just then a funeral happened to pass by the Palace buildings, and Bekri got up and ordered the solemn procession to stop. Removing the lid of the coffin, he whispered a few words into the ear of the dead man, and then putting his ear to the dead man's mouth, vented an exclamation of surprise. He then ordered the funeral to proceed, and returned to the Palace.
The Sultan asked him what he had said to the dead man, and what the dead man replied.
"I simply asked him where he was going and from what he had died, and he replied he was going to Paradise, and that he had died from drinking raki without a mézé."
Whereupon the Sultan understanding what he wanted, ordered that the mézé should be immediately served.

It's free for Kindle at Amazon and various formats at Project Gutenberg. 3 stars out of 5.

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