I don’t read a lot of fiction—I’d rather read history and travel books—but I must say I was grabbed and held (captured and imprisoned?) by Jenny White‘s The Abyssinian Proof.
Her first novel, The Sultan’s Seal, introduced Kamil Pasha,Magistrate for Beyoglu, orchid collector, aesthete and eligible bachelor who probes the mysteries of the day, and with them the heart—and guts—of the city.
The Abyssinian Proof follows Kamil Pasha through the streets, waterways, tunnels and secret passages of Ottoman Istanbul in 1887 as he seeks to solve an ever-compounding mystery: the disappearance of an ancient Byzantine reliquary which may just hold a secret of worldwide importance.
In a sense, this is a history and travel book, one of beautiful, evocative writing about Byzantine Constantinople, OttomanIstanbul, of pashas and princes, emperors, harems, soldiers and…detectives.
Besides all the poetically-painted historical landscapes and colorful characters, Ms White weaves a fine web of mystery that draws you into the back streets of Istanbul and even beneath them (you’ll see what I mean) into the subterranean city of the Byzantines that still exists.
“Abyssinian?” Are there Ethiopians in Istanbul? Perhaps there were, some of them powerful, all of them with secrets, some of which you’ll learn. Only some.
Jews, and Greeks, Armenians, and Americans, Maltese and more: The Abyssinian Proof takes place when Istanbul/Constantinople was among the world’s most cosmopolitan cities, the bridge between Europe and Asia, east and west, linked to Paris by the Orient Express but a world away from the City of Light.
Call it the City of Shadows.
Jenny White knows the city, the country, the people and their history, having lived here, learned Turkish, and done years of research as a social anthropologist.
Going to Turkey? Just (reluctantly) returned? Read The Abyssinian Proof to extend the excitement of your journey, and to learn things about Istanbul that you never imagined.
The Abyssinian Proof, by Jenny White
New York & London: W W Norton & Company, 2008
Hardbound: ISBN 978-0-393-06205-2, 397 pages, US$23.95
Paperback: ISBN: 978-0-393-33372-5, $13.95
See also The Sultan’s Seal and The Winter Thief by Jenny White.
|The Sultan’s Seal
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