‘A Civilizing Influence’ – The Walrus reviews The Islam Quintet

‘The Islam Quintet’ reviewed by Charles Foran for The Walrus, July 1, 2005

Making the boldest time leap in the series, The Stone Woman bypasses the glory days of the final Islamic empire to meditate on its long twilight. The novel, which details the story of a disaffected Turkish aristocrat named Nilofer who returns to her family home outside Istanbul in 1899, is a Chekhovian exercise in philosophical sighs and political inertia. Characters squander afternoons lamenting the retreat of the Ottoman Empire from the Europe that emerged out of the Renaissance. “Istanbul,” one character remarks, “could have been the capital of invention and modernity like Cordoba and Baghdad in the old days, but these wretched beards that established the laws of our state were frightened of losing their monopoly of power and knowledge.” The “beards” are the conservative clergy, who had, for instance, persuaded one sixteenth-century sultan that the printing press would be a threat to stability. Another character summarizes the sentiment among the family: “I think our decline is well deserved.” read more