The historical Halide Edib Adivar was the first Turkish student at the American Girls College in Constantinople. Enrolled there in 1897 by her progressive-thinking father, Halide masters several languages. She later translates European texts into Turkish for her husband, a mathematical scholar, and publishes her first novel, under a male pseudonym. For despite liberal Western influences in Constantinople, Sultan Abdulhamid and his secret police pounce on any action that appears to counter the established order. The young Halide of Halide’s Gift is not attempting to overthrow any government; she simply wants the right to freedom of expression. Yet she remains traditional in many ways, adhering to her Muslim faith, and wearing a veil in public. She also accepts her gift: the ability to hear and see the spirits of departed family members.
In this novel, personal and political history mix together extremely well. The author successfully integrates the points of view of several characters, including Halide’s likeable grandmother, her father, her rebellious sister, her stepmother, and her enigmatic first husband. Past events are seldom stated directly, yet the reader still understands what has transpired. Unfortunately, many current happenings are also inferred, like Halide’s father’s second wedding, a pivotal event in her life. But this is my only criticism of a novel that presents an enticing picture of Constantinople c.1900.