Bliss

( 13 )

Overview

Meryem, a fifteen-year-old girl, lives in a rural village on the shores of Lake Van in Eastern Turkey. Her simple life changes dramatically after her uncle, a sheikh in a dervish order, rapes her. She is considered an outcast for shaming her family. When she is locked in a shed and left alone for days, she comes to the painful realization that her family expects her to hang herself with a length of rope left on the dirt floor. But she is defiant.

As tradition still has it, a ...

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Bliss: A Novel

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Overview

Meryem, a fifteen-year-old girl, lives in a rural village on the shores of Lake Van in Eastern Turkey. Her simple life changes dramatically after her uncle, a sheikh in a dervish order, rapes her. She is considered an outcast for shaming her family. When she is locked in a shed and left alone for days, she comes to the painful realization that her family expects her to hang herself with a length of rope left on the dirt floor. But she is defiant.

As tradition still has it, a judgment must be made in the name of honor. She is told she is to be taken to Istanbul, a shining city she envisions being just over the nearest mountain. Many girls from her village have "gone to Istanbul," and she assumes it must be a wonderful place since not one has returned. In fact, those girls have been the victims of "honor-killings."

Cemal, Meryem's cousin, a commando in the army, has been fighting in the mountains against the rebels. On his return home, he is welcomed as a hero though he has been severely traumatized by his war experiences. His father, who had violated Meryem, charges Cemal with the task of executing his cousin's punishment. As he and Mereym begin their journey, they proceed through the marketplace where the townspeople have gathered, some weeping and others mocking her.

In Istanbul, a Harvard-educated professor named Irfan lives an elite existence. He has published many books, hosts a radio show, and seems to enjoy success and jet-set freedom. He revolts against the routine of his soulless life, deciding to leave his wealthy wife and Istanbul. He charters a boat to sail the Aegean . By coincidence, his path crosses with that of Meryem and Cemal. They embark on a journey togetherthat fills their hearts with hope and sets them free.

Already an international bestseller, this lyrical and moving tale juxtaposes the traditional and modern and draws attention to human rights violations against women in the Middle East.

Finalist for the 2006 Discover Award, Fiction

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
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Life was much easier when Meryem was a little girl. "Thin as a beanpole, she played with the other children" in the streets of the small Turkish village where she was born. But too soon she is forced to realize the legacy of her womanly inheritance -- swathed in thick cloth from head to toe, she is hidden away, ignored, her only purpose to serve others.

Following a violent assault by a powerful relative, Meryem is shunned by her family and is led to a barn, expected to fulfill her duty to restore her family's name. Conversely, her cousin Cemal returns a hero from the war against the Kurds. Yet it is her childhood playmate Cemal who is selected to mete out Meryem's punishment.

Miles away in Istanbul, Dr. Irfan Kurudal, a famous professor, flees his comfortable but empty life to sail across the magnificent Aegean Sea. Leaving behind a wife, a career, and decades of hard work, he doesn't know what he's searching for, only that he cannot survive if he remains in a life that feels increasingly insignificant.

Set against a backdrop and culture both foreign and mysterious, Bliss is the provocative story of three lives shattered by the constraints and contradictions of the society in which they live. In Livaneli's artfully written novel, their paths unexpectedly cross, launching each of them on a journey to freedom and a second chance. (Holiday 2006 Selection)
Publishers Weekly
The paths of three characters converge to illustrate, perhaps too patly, the conflicts of contemporary Turkey. Raped by her uncle, the sheikh, 15-year-old villager Meryem has shamed her family. To save the family name, Cemal, the sheikh's son, a soldier home from his tour fighting Kurds in the Gabar Mountains, is ordered by his father to take Meryem to Istanbul and to murder her. When Cemal and Meryem reach Istanbul, they are shocked by the cosmopolitan city, full of women wearing low-cut blouses and children who disobey their parents. Cemal falters at the moment of decision and, instead of murdering Meryem, travels with her to the seaside, where they encounter Irfan, a successful Istanbul professor who, plagued by insomnia and anxiety, has fled his cushy life to set sail in the Aegean Sea. Irfan offers them jobs on his boat and forges a tenuous mentorship with Meryem, but Cemal, whose psychological torment is richly captured early in the book, is soon reduced to a glowering presence. Livaneli, a former exile who was elected to Turkey's Parliament in 2002, takes great pains to reveal his country's complex culture, but the result often reads like a cautionary fable. Readers should prepare themselves for heavy-handed allegory. (Oct.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
A writer, composer, and elected member of the Turkish parliament, Livaneli offers readers a fascinating look at the diversity of Turkey today in his American debut (Bliss was first published in 2003). The story is told from the perspective of three main characters. Cemal serves in Turkey's army, fighting the Kurds, though he hails from a village where Turks and Kurds have lived in peace for generations, often intermarrying. His younger cousin Meryam is content with the changeless village life until she is raped at 15 by Cemal's father. Irfan is a Harvard-educated professor and frequent television talking head who with his wealthy wife spends his evenings at the hottest restaurants and clubs. When Cemal returns from his service, he is charged with "taking Meryam to Istanbul"-a euphemism for murdering Meryam somewhere so that the crime is not traced back to the family. In the meantime, Irfan longs for the simple life he dreamed of as a boy and heads to sea in a rented boat. Eventually, the three characters meet, a significant event that affects them all. Highly recommended for libraries where readers like to explore other cultures.-Debbie Boggenshutz, Cincinnati State Technical & Community Coll. Lib. Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
School Library Journal

Adult/High School
Left in the barn to hang herself as a consequence of her uncle raping her, 15-year-old Meryem defies local tradition and refuses to do it. Her cousin Cemal, recently a soldier in the army, who grew up with her in a tiny village in eastern Turkey, is sent to take her to Istanbul and is told to kill her on the way. On the train, Meryem's eyes are opened to city women who wear modern-day dress and speak and eat in front of men. Cemal cannot kill her, and after a short stay with his brother in Istanbul, he goes to a war buddy who gives them a place of temporary refuge, a fish farm on a cove in western Turkey. Here they meet a professor who has run away from his privileged life in Istanbul and is living on a large sailboat. He invites the two cousins to join him as his crew and companions. The dynamics created by this union give these three characters a new direction in which to take their lives. Teens will be drawn to the plight of a girl who has been raped and is then treated as the perpetrator of the crime. Livaneli shows village life and modern city life as two separate realities that coexist in Turkey today. Students interested in human rights and global studies will also appreciate this novel.
—Ellen BellCopyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

Kirkus Reviews
Turkey's wildly disparate and clashing cultures, from isolated Muslim fundamentalism to jaded secularism, collide in this romantic yet clear-eyed translation from a noted Turkish composer and politician, now a member of that country's Parliament. Her village family ostracizes teenage Meryem after she is raped. When her older cousin Cemal returns from fighting in the Turkish army against the Kurds, his father, the family's religious leader (and Meryem's secret rapist), orders him to take Meryem to Istanbul and make her "disappear," the typical fate of defiled village girls. Meryem innocently enjoys the journey to Istanbul, unaware of Cemal's orders. To his mortification, Cemal cannot bring himself to kill Meryem. His army buddy Selahattin, a devout Muslim and genuinely good man, shows Cemal that the Koran can be interpreted as promoting love and peace, not vengeance. Meanwhile, Irfan, a professor with a TV show and a rich wife, escapes the meaningless of his life in Istanbul by sailing the Aegean Sea in an old boat. He hires Meryem and Cemal as his crew and introduces them to modern ways. Drawn to her budding intelligence, Irfan teaches Meryem to read. As Meryem blossoms, Cemal grows resentful, yet he, too, loses his desire to return to his father's village. Tensions rise in an idyllic seaside village where they stay with a former ambassador who has withdrawn to his orange orchard to escape the ugliness he has witnessed in the world. Meryem falls in with a kind family who run a restaurant. Cemal and Irfan confront each other with truths neither wants to face. Irfan sails away after giving Meryem all his money. She goes to the restaurant full of hope, leaving Cemal to find his own way.Livaneli deftly folds his philosophical and political questioning into the psychology of his characters. Eye-opening and deeply moving-essential for anyone looking for decency in the world today.
From the Publisher
"I loved this book so much that I sent a fan letter to the publisher, and demanded to be introduced to the author when I went to Istanbul. Bliss is fresh, original, and warm-hearted, the work of a cosmopolitan insider and multi-talented artist."

—Louis de Bernieres, author of Corelli's Mandolin

"Livaneli is an essential force in Turkey's musical, cultural and political scene."

—Orhan Pamuk, Nobel Prize Winner and author of Snow

"The intersecting destinies of the three heroes present a portrait of Turkey at once tender and compassionate. I am sure they will have a deep influence upon French readers just as they have conquered the hearts of more than a hundred thousand of your compatriots."

—President Jacques Chirac of France, in a letter to the author

"A gripping contemporary story that gets behind stereotypes of exotic Islam to reveal the diversity in individual people and the secrets and lies, cruelty and love, in family, friendship, and public life. This will make a terrific bookclub selection when it reaches paperback."

Booklist

"Eye-opening and deeply moving—essential for anyone looking for decency in the world today."

Kirkus Reviews (starred)

"A lyrical novel."

The Wall Street Journal

"With lush scenes of Turkish life and nuanced depictions of the [characters'] inner lives. . . .a convergence of lost, likable souls."

Entertainment Weekly

"Livaneli offers readers a fascinating look at the diversity of Turkey today in his American debut."

Library Journal

"A compelling premise, set in a part of the world that many American readers are curious about. . . hard to put down"

The Cleveland Plain Dealer

"A brutal rape and the subsequent death sentence on the defiled girl draws one into the disparate worlds of traditional and modern Turkey. This exciting, sensitively written novel educates and illuminates not only the plight of women but also a society in conflict."

—Barbara Goldsmith, Author and Historian

"Livaneli's novel paints a picture of contemporary Turkey and its archaic culture and shows how torn this country and its people are . . . Livaneli reveals how much collective obedience, respect, and honor mold people and keep them from their happiness. This novel is smart, honest . . . It allows us to understand Turkey and its people a little better and sympathize with them."

—Necla Kelek, German-Turkish sociologist and author of the bestsellers The Foreign Bride and The Lost Sons

"Lyrical, poetic, and magical . . .Livaneli is an extraordinary writer and a master of language . . .I like the way he depicts the real and unknown life of the simple people who live deep in the East with their own age-old codes of life…You will read this book in one breath, without a pause."

—Mikis Theodorakis, composer for Zorba the Greek

"Teens will be drawn to the plight of a girl who has been raped and is then treated as the perpetrator of the crime. Livaneli shows village life and modern city life as two separate realities that coexist in Turkey today. Students interested in human rights and global studies will also appreciate this novel."

School Library Journal

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780786292233
  • Publisher: Gale Group
  • Publication date: 1/9/2007
  • Series: Thorndike Reviewers' Choice Ser.
  • Pages: 519
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.60 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

O. Z. Livaneli

O. Z. Livaneli, one of Turkey’s most prominent authors, is also an accomplished composer, and previously served as an elected member of the Turkish Parliament.

Biography

O. Z. Livaneli is one of Turkey's most prominent and popular authors, as well as an accomplished musician and composer, whose works have been recorded by the London Symphony Orchestra. He was held under military detention during the coup of March 12, 1971, and lived in exile for eight years. He studied music in Stockholm, then lived in Paris and Athens, returning to Turkey in 1984. He was one of the founders of the Turkish-Kurdish Peace Movement and the initiator of the Campaign Against Violence in Turkey, and he has made significant contributions to the Greek-Turkish Frienship Committee. He was elected a Member of Parliament in 2002.

Author biography courtesy of St. Martin's Press.

Good To Know

Some interesting outtakes from our interview with Livaneli:

"One day a student approaches Borges, who is blind then, as he's walking the streets of Buenos Aires and asks him, ‘Are you Mr.Borges?' Borges replies, ‘Sometimes!' There are many moments in my life when I find myself feeling the same way. Sometimes joyous, sometimes sad, sometimes optimistic, sometimes pessimistic. I guess everyone is like that."

"I began my career as a publisher; I had a publishing house in Ankara. So I was somehow always related with the world of books. When my publishing house was shut down by the military junta and I was imprisoned, I chose to continue my relationship with books through the act of writing. I've been writing ever since."

"The desire to write was always there in me from my youth onwards, and I began by writing stories. One of my stories, ‘A Child in Purgatory,' was filmed by Swedish and German television. This year my novel Bliss is adapted to cinema. I think I have a special liking for novels that can be adapted to cinema. For me it indicates that the book has a decent story and characters."

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    1. Also Known As:
      Omer Zulfu Livaneli (full name)
    2. Hometown:
      Istanbul, Turkey
    1. Date of Birth:
      June 20, 1946
    2. Place of Birth:
      Ilgýn, Konya, Turkey
    1. Education:
      B.A. in Music, 1974
    2. Website:

Read an Excerpt

She no longer remembered the hut by the vineyard at the edge of the village where she had gone to take her uncle his food. She no longer recollected how the man had thrown himself on her and violated her; nor how she had fainted; nor even later, when she had come to her senses, how she had rushed out of the hut and run madly down the road. It was all buried deep in the shadows of her mind.

Two young men had found her near the graveyard, her skin scratched by thornbushes, dried blood on her legs. Delirious with fright, she had fluttered like a wounded bird. They carried her through the village marketplace and brought her home -- where everyone was stunned into silence. Too afraid to discuss the incident, Meryem's family had locked her in the damp and dingy outhouse they called the barn.

Meryem spoke to no one about the rape in the vineyard hut, nor did she reveal the identity of her attacker. In fact, she began to doubt it had ever happened. Perhaps it had just been a dream. Her memory was blurred, and she could not remember what she had done after regaining her senses. It was all so confused, so impossible to think of, though she could not imagine ever saying "uncle" to him again. She thrust the event to the farthest corner of her mind. Yet, even there, out of conscious reach, it still lay lurking -- ready to surface again in her dreams.

The barn, where her thin mattress lay on the ground, was dark. Feeble beams of light from the courtyard flickered through the cracks in the aged wooden door and the tiny hole in the ceiling. In the dimness, the shapes of discarded saddles, saddlebags, halters, harnesses, a pitchfork abandoned in a corner, bundles arranged in rows on the wooden shelves, a bag used to store dried phyllo dough, thin sheets of sun-dried grape pulp, and grain sacks were all indistinguishable, but Meryem knew by heart the place of each and every one of them.

She had spent her entire life in this place on the shores of Lake Van, this place half town, half village. She knew each house, each tree, each bird there. Every detail of the abandoned Armenian house, two stories high, in which they lived was stamped on her mind: the granary, the simple bathroom, the earthen oven, the stable, the chicken coop, the garden, the poplars, and the courtyard. Even with her eyes closed, she could easily find the smallest thing, as if she had put it there herself. On the wooden door of their house were two knockers -- one big, one small. The larger knocker was used by the men and the smaller one by the women who visited the house. The women of the household understood from the sound who was at the door, and when they heard the banging of the bigger knocker they had just enough time to cover themselves for the male visitor.

Since Meryem had never left the village, or even seen the other side of the hill that was always there in front of her, she sometimes thought she knew nothing of the world. But this did not bother her. After all, she could go to the city of Istanbul anytime she liked; whenever people talked about some acquaintance or other, they always seemed to remark, "She went to Istanbul" or "He came from Istanbul." Meryem was certain that it lay just beyond the distant hill. She had always believed that if she climbed to the top, she would see the golden city about whose glories the villagers never tired of telling.

To go to a city so near might not have been difficult, but now it was quite impossible. Quite apart from going to Istanbul just over the hill, now she could not even go to the fountain, the bakery from which she used to fetch bread, the store full of sweet-smelling, colorful cloth she had been taken to by her elders, or the public bath where once a week they used to spend the whole day. She was now imprisoned in the barn into which her family had thrust her, then locked the door. An outcast, she was in solitary confinement.

Meryem had not seen her father since the incident when the sinful part of her body had been violated. Her father was quiet and withdrawn, and her uncle dominated the family. No one, not even Meryem's father, dared to speak freely in front of him. He was highly regarded, not only in their village but throughout the neighborhood, and visitors, bearing gifts, would often come to kiss his hand and pay their respects. Strict, quick-tempered, and intimidating, he recited verse from the Quran, invoked the hadiths of the Prophet Muhammad, and acted as a guide in all matters of daily life. As he was the head of the religious sect of that area, he had many followers, even in Istanbul on the other side of the hill.

It was Meryem's uncle who had confined her to the barn. She could still hear his furious shot, "Lock up that accursed, immoral whore!" and the remembrance of his cruel words made her tremble even more.

As Döne was quick to tell her, Meryem had thrown the family honor into the dust. No longer could they walk through the village with their heads held high.

"What happens to girls who get in trouble like this?" Meryem had asked her stepmother.

"They get sent to Istanbul. Two or three have already gone there."

Meryem's fear lessened. Her punishment would only be to go over the hill there behind them. But then she noticed Döne's expression -- as if she were saying, "You'll get what you deserve, my girl!"
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Reading Group Guide

An international bestseller, Bliss embodies the sweep and contradictions of modern Turkish society and the place of women in it. Bliss is the story of Meryem, a young village girl who is raped by her uncle. An outcast for shaming her family, she is locked in the cellar and expected to kill herself. Whe she refuses to do her duty, her cousin and childhood playmate Cemal is charged with carrying out the honor killing, to "take her to Istanbul” as the village euphemism goes. By chance, their paths cross with Irfan, an older and sophisticated professor from Istanbul who has abandoned his elite existence. Together they embark on a journey that sets them free.

Beautifully wrought and simply told, Bliss brings attention to the difficult situation of women in Turkey, and captures universal truths forged in the space between people from opposite ends of a complicated culture.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 13 )
Rating Distribution

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(9)

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Sort by: Showing all of 16 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 17, 2007

    Wonderful depiction of the different lifestyles of modern Turkey

    Zulfu Livaneli did a wonderful job with this novel. With his three main characters, Meryem, Camel and Dr. Irfan Kurudal he allows the reader to acquire an accurate perception of how different life can be in modern Turkey. Bliss in the American title. It is entitled 'Mutluluk' in most other countries. There is also movie that just came out, but it is in Turkish. Bliss is Middle Eastern Fiction that portrays real controversies 'such as honor killings' in a made-up story. This novel was named Book of the Month in Italy of March 2007. Bliss opens the world's eyes to important problems in Turkey today: women's rights and religion. I am interested in hearing what other authors will have to say about 'Bliis' in the future.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 18, 2006

    An unforgettable book!

    I have read this book in the original language it has written, over and over. It touched my heart and my soul each time. The characters defined so wonderfully that they almost exist, you can see them. You live them. You feel them. It is not possible to put it down. A book you will not forget, ever!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 15, 2007

    Wow.

    I read this book in one sitting. I would recommend this to anyone. It's like having a curtain drawn back for a time, so you can watch a world that you hear about but somehow can never really imagine.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 16, 2006

    a striking story from a marvelous pen

    This is the story of a little girl raped by her uncle and doomed to death by her tribe. I read the book from the first page to the last with great excitement and I got into the story since the moment I saw her name. She was Meryem whose name symbolizes 'purity' and 'innosence'. Meryem also symbolizes two sides of the country: one side is a country where some people endeavour to create a peaceful atmosphere to live and the other side is a country where a group of people exist with their savage souls. Meryem is in between those people throughout the story. What's more, the novel is worth reading even just because of its character analyses: Meryem, Cemal and Ýrfan. You will find an aspect of yours in all those portraits. In brief, the story is fascinating, the pen is fascinating, the character is fascinating. Get a move on to read it.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 19, 2006

    Bliss

    Reading this book opened my eyes to the reality of the horrors of honor crimes widely spread in the eastern world. Great book!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 31, 2006

    A fascinating book!

    It's the story of a young girl condemned to death by her family in the name of honour. In the background, you'll find a most realistic picture of modern Turkey with all its contradictions. For those who are interested in discovering the multiple facets of this interesting country.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 31, 2006

    Search for happiness

    This is a book about the search for happiness. His three heroes, each of them an unforgettable character, change themselves and each other in the course of a trip through the Aegean. I would strongly recommend to everyone. It's well constructed and moves with a breathtaking pace. Livaneli is a very powerful narrator.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 12, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Is this fiction of today?

    I read this book because I am going to Turkey and wanted a flavor of the country. This book was recommended by someone on a TripAdvisor chat group. I found it disturbing if a true indication of Turkey today - that such treatment of women can still exist. The fact that this is written by a Turk and the reviews by a very prominent Turk writer makes me believe it is true. It is an engaging story but at times I felt if the author was trying to make a political statements about Turkey and the world today and the very different cultures existing in the world today. It is an easy read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 9, 2008

    A Disappointment

    I found this book very boring. It goes on and on and never really gets to any conclusion. I am not sure what the point was.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 14, 2007

    Surprised and pleased

    Picked this book up off a sale table because I thought it sounded interesting, and enjoy trying new authors. Was totally and very pleasantly surprised by this book. It was very interesting all the way through. Made you see the life of the Turkish people as some of them lived it. Intriguing in parts and I truly enjoyed it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 19, 2006

    Bliss

    A beautiful book about a teenage girl trying to keep her identity and dignity in the harsh world of Islamic fundementalism. A story of survival, love and hope.

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    Posted May 10, 2011

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    Posted December 27, 2009

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    Posted February 20, 2010

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    Posted August 7, 2010

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