A Fez Of The Heart

( 3 )


Inspired by a dusty fez in his parents’ attic, Jeremy Seal set off in 1993 to trace the astonishing history of this cone-shaped hat. Soon the quintessentially Turkish headgear became the key to understanding a country beset by contradictions. “A modern travel classic” (Herald Express).

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Inspired by a dusty fez in his parents’ attic, Jeremy Seal set off in 1993 to trace the astonishing history of this cone-shaped hat. Soon the quintessentially Turkish headgear became the key to understanding a country beset by contradictions. “A modern travel classic” (Herald Express).

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Editorial Reviews

Stephanie Zacharek

The trouble with travel writing is that too often any old schmoe with a backpack and a rail pass thinks he can do it. Jeremy Seal is something else: a traveler whose prose is funny and sometimes breathtakingly eloquent and one who, even though he speaks the local language fluently, doesn't hesitate to ask for a tourist brochure when he arrives in a new town. That lack of assumption makes Seal the perfect guide through the Turkey of the past and present in A Fez of the Heart, an attempt to trace the origins of a hat inextricably linked with Turkey but banned there in 1925 by Kemal Atatürk as a symbol of outmoded ways. Seal, who briefly taught English in Turkey in the 1980s, travels around small towns and big cities, scouting out old fez factories, searching for living, working fez makers. He finds only a few, but he knows -- as we do -- that his search is only an excuse to talk to the Turkish people, a way of linking their past with their thoughts and feelings today. Threads of Turkish history spread out like spiders' legs from Seal's narrative: he doesn't shy away from the troubled past -- or present -- of this largely Muslim country, bristling when he recounts how a jovial Turkish man tries to downplay the Armenian massacre of the early 1900s. Another local tries to convince Seal (a Christian) that Islam is a better religion because it's newer, and while Seal wants only to respect the man's religion, he isn't afraid to show exasperation and disbelief at his reasoning.

Seal clearly loves the Turkish people, but just as he refuses to submerge his sense of self while he's in their country, he refuses to condescendingly wave away cultural differences by saying, "That's just the way Muslims do things." Instead, he distills for us the essence of Turkish life: "Everywhere there was evidence of lives being lived, of a continuity through the generations in the deep-worn steps where endless feet had fallen. . ." Looking for a hat that's all but dead, Seal found a country whose heart is still beating strong, and he amplifies the sound so that we can hear it, too. -- Salon

Kirkus Reviews
An intrepid Englishman journeys across the geographic, cultural, and sartorial landscape of Turkey in this wryly trenchant narrative that delivers far more than its title portends.

Having previously taught English in Ankara and being fluent in Turkish, Seal, now a travel writer, undertakes a diligent search for any remaining traces of the conical, tassled fez that was outlawed by Atatürk, founder of modern Turkey, in 1925. So thoroughly banished was this headgear in pursuit of a modern, secular society (hangings were not uncommon in the enforcement of the ban), that Seal is only able to locate some fezzes in the dusty backrooms of a handful of hatmakers, in an Istanbul museum (where Seal, customarily the only visitor to any museum in his odyssey, is spied on by a man with a walkie-talkie), and on the head of a hopeful tourist agent. Crossing the Anatolian heartland in the footsteps of Atatürk, Seal finds a nation of unfinished and decaying buildings, treacherous roads, rickety conveyances, and ideological battles between the Western-looking secularists and the Eastern-looking Islamic fundamentalists. While in Kurdistan (some of whose population are still unaware that the fez was banned), Seal talks with villagers caught between the threats of Turkish soldiers and Kurdish guerrillas, both sides, it appears, equally barbaric. Yet there is much humor to be found: Seal's description of the common man is fraught with an economically worded, dryly colonial sensibility; Turks are forever trying out their English on Seal with hilarious effects; and the bureaucracy is unfailingly, comically inept. The fez, in its various historical and stylistic permutations, is never absent from the book; finally, the reader understands it as the physical embodiment of a nation forever seeking an identity.

An adventure firmly predicated on the almost extirpated fez, yet far more than the story of a hat, Seal's book is an unerring pleasure to read.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780156003933
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 3/28/1996
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 350
  • Sales rank: 716,467
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.78 (d)

Meet the Author

Jeremy Seal has written for numerous English newspapers. His first book, A Fez of the Heart, was chosen as a Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year and short-listed for the Thomas Cook Travel Book Award. His second book, The Snakebite Survivor's Club, was a New York Public Library Exceptional Book of the Year. He lives in Bath, England, with his wife and daughters.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 2.5
( 3 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted August 8, 2010

    Informative & Enjoyable

    I read this before and during a recent two-week visit to Turkey. The book gave me thoughtful historic and cultural context, woven around a neat story (the author's quest to uncover the true history, role, and origin of the fez in Turkey). The book's tone of matter-of-fact persistence, exasperation, and meandering & shared digestion of information stayed with me; I drew on them deliberately as I made my way from tourist to traveler.

    Jeremy Seal's use of words is skilled and smooth. Quite the companion!

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    Posted December 25, 2011

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