Turkey: Bright Sun, Strong Tea

New travel book offers readers entertaining insights into Turkey

By Alan Adasiak, Turkish Daily News Guest Writer, 17 October 2004.

Imagine that you have the author of the world’s best-selling tour guide to Turkey sitting with you after dinner telling you stories of his adventures there — humorous, moving, always interesting — and you will have an idea of what it is to read Tom Brosnahan’s new book, “Turkey: Bright Sun, Strong Tea.”
The book, by the author of the Lonely Planet guide to Turkey, is a series of wonderful snapshots that provide insights into this travel-writer’s life and work. Brosnahan has written over 40 guidebooks on 12 countries, but Turkey is clearly his first and longest love.

It is difficult to classify this book as either autobiography or travel book because it is both: There are sections about Brosnahan’s life — including his married life — and there are sections about interesting people and events that never made it into a guidebook.

His descriptive powers are shown in this passage about being caught in a racing storm at Ephesus: “The wall of airborne water hit the western end of the Arcadian Way, slowed just a bit, then proceeded up the ancient street, drenching the white marble pavement and turning it to silver, which shown in the dark, mysterious storm light. The silver sheen spread eastward, up from the pavement to the monumental fountains and the ranks of marble columns that bordered the avenue.”

His sense of humor, from quick jokes to funny scenes, is everywhere. The book, as he says, is in part about “life’s little jokes and absurdities, which seem far more abundant than is strictly necessary.”

Sometimes, there is quick wit, as in “The Blonde at the Circumcision Party,” where he describes his dancing with the beautiful woman he brought as “shuffling like a walrus in a swamp.” Other times, as in “Perils of the Turkish Bath” he draws out more elaborate scenes; in this case, for example, the high-society wives of the members of the International Chamber of Commerce, meeting in Istanbul, find themselves and their spouses scandalized by newspaper coverage of the ladies’ visit to a hamam.

Brosnahan also offers a variety of contrasts between the way things were when he first arrived and what they became later. Take, for instance, the original Tamek fruit nectar: “The smallest sip filled your mouth with an explosion of essential flavor. Peach, apricot, pear, Morello cherry… Turkish fruit was superb, and each little bottle held the quintessence, the very spirit of the fruit.” Ten years later “food engineers arrived from Germany” and taught the Turks to add water and sugar, for a thinner flavor but a greater profit.

Brosnahan first came to Turkey as a Peace Corps volunteer in September of 1967, drilled in beginning Turkish and theoretically ready to teach English. Approximately the first half of this 328-page book is devoted to his life through 1969, when he was in his early to mid-20s. The remainder of its 23 chapters trace his career from a tentative, pioneering start writing his first travel guide for Arthur Frommer, through the development of the Lonely Planet guide to Turkey into an all-time best seller, and on to his decision to abandon the guide and start a Web site on Turkey, which he still maintains.

Woven through this are stories of people and places in Turkey that the average tourist may never have met or experienced. For example, there is Muzaffer Efendi, the mysterious Istanbul bookseller in the old book bazaar near the Grand Bazaar. He and Brosnahan chat for a while in Turkish, then, sensing some rapport, Muzaffer invites Brosnahan and his wife to attend a dervish religious service of the Halveti sect. He describes the service in scenic detail, including the chanting of the men, which earned them the Western nickname of “Growling Dervishes.”

Brosnahan is as candid about himself as he is in his descriptions of others. He tells, for instance, of leaving Dogubeyazit in Eastern Turkey, ignoring the advice of local taxi drivers and choosing another route of travel that looks good on the map. He and his wife, in a low-slung, under-powered Renault, get stuck in the bed of a stream where Brosnahan becomes nearly hysterical over the danger of a distant pack of wolves. A stranger in a suit is unable to help them but sends a group of the local Gendarmes, who wade into the mud and lift the car to get it unstuck.

Over time Brosnahan encounters the death of friends made during the course of his Peace Corps and guidebook work. Along with many other experiences, these sharpen his appreciation and deepen his understanding as he searches for what he jokingly calls “the meaning of life.” At the end, he even suggests, lightly, that he may have found the meaning of life, at least for himself — and he hints at what it is in case it applies to others.

This book contains no detailed political or economic analysis, but it is strong on people and events, laced with humor. Every reader will have his favorite characters and tales from this rich collection.


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