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The Turk and My Mother

The Turk and My Mother

5.0 1
by Mary Helen Stefaniak

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"Evokes a loving nostalgia for a closeness now lost."—Chicago Tribune
Every family has its secrets. But toward the end of his life, George decides to tell his daughter the story of his mother and the Turk. This initial revelation leads to a narrative tour de force that follows a family through four generations and around the world—through love, marriage,


"Evokes a loving nostalgia for a closeness now lost."—Chicago Tribune
Every family has its secrets. But toward the end of his life, George decides to tell his daughter the story of his mother and the Turk. This initial revelation leads to a narrative tour de force that follows a family through four generations and around the world—through love, marriage, and betrayal, through illness, death, and war. Mary Helen Stefaniak's charming and flawed characters and the warmth of her prose will stay with readers long after they close the book. Reading group guide included.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Storytelling is at the heart of Stefaniak's (Self Storage and Other Stories) lovingly crafted volume of three interwoven family tales (subtitled "A Novel"), which captures the history of a Croatian-American family settled in Milwaukee after World War I. The book's Decameron-esque framework is set from the beginning as George, the first-generation American son of Josef and Agnes, is on his deathbed, surrounded by his adult children. The stories he tells about life in Milwaukee in the 1930s lead to stories-within-stories told by his grandmother Staramajka, the family matriarch, who steals the show. "My father's mother had her own style of storytelling, a style that avoided accommodating her listeners in any way.... You had to hear about the fence cleverly woven of branches, the dirt yard full of chickens, the four fat pigs that her son sold off when our mother was pregnant." A master of digression, Staramajka lingers over the details of village life as she tells of her daughter-in-law's secret love for a Turkish prisoner of war, her son Marko's wartime disappearance and miraculous return from Soviet Russia, and her own mysterious relationship with a blind gypsy called Istvan. She fades into the background only in the final story, in which yet another secret history is revealed, this one featuring Kata, the illegitimate daughter of a Polish woman with a traumatic past and a connection to George's family. Stefaniak's easy familiarity with the vernacular idioms of the old country and the new, and her zestful, respectful ear for different voices, create a world whose past, present and story-loving afterlife are at once magical and grounded in reality. Agent, Georges Borchardt. (June) Forecast: Regional sales may be strongest for this immigrant tale, but enthusiastic reviews could help it break out nationwide. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
In her debut novel Stefaniak (Self Storage and Other Stories) recounts a saga of Croatian immigrants across the 20th century through a collection of touching love stories and revelations of family secrets long held and cherished. George Iljasic, first born of those immigrants in America, shares his experiences and family stories (many told to him by his feisty grandmother, Staramajka) with his children. Who was "the Turk," and what really happened between him and George's mother, Agnes, back in the old country? Where was Uncle Marco, declared missing in action during World War I, and why didn't he ever write or come home? Who is Staramajka's Blind Gypsy? What secret does George's first love, Kata, bear? Stefaniak interweaves these compelling accounts with warmth and humor, circling back and forth through lands and time, finally completing the circle with a seam of awed satisfaction. Fans of Amy Tan's The Joy Luck Club will love this book; highly recommended for all public libraries.-Jyna Scheeren, Troy P.L., NY Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Rambling tale about several generations of Serbo-Croatians who leave the Old Country for America. Mostly, Stefaniak (Self Storage, stories, not reviewed) presents a family saga, passed down from generation to generation, with all the attendant inaccuracies, lacunae, and outright deceptions that are the stock in trade of every family tree. There are, however, a few things we can be sure of. We begin in the little Croatian village of Novo Selo, which was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire until WWI. Shortly before the war breaks out in 1914, a young man named Josef Iljasic leaves Novo Selo for Milwaukee, intending to make his fortune in a year or two before returning home to his wife Agnes. But the war intervenes, Josef is stranded in America, and Agnes is left to fend for herself, her daughter, and her mother-in-law in a village now bereft of men. Into this scene walks Tas Akbulut, a Turkish (or is he Serbian?) prisoner of war who's billeted at Agnes's house and assigned to help out with odd jobs throughout the village. Without giving anything away, we can report that something transpires between Agnes and Tas. That much becomes obvious when we jump ahead a few years ti find that Agnes has taken her children and gone to live with Josef in Milwaukee, and Tas manages to make his way to Wisconsin to visit her. He has an easier trip than Josef's brother Marko, who was thought to have died in the war but actually became a POW (for the other side) and ended up living in Russia, where he survived the Revolution by playing the violin. There are also stories about the blind gypsy who taught Marko the violin, the woman Josef loved in Milwaukee, and the trip that Josef's granddaughter Mary Helentakes to meet her relatives in the Old Country. Overdone and confusing. An impossibly tangled narrative strangles what, in parts, is a truly fascinating and intricate first novel.

Product Details

Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date:
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.90(d)

Meet the Author

Mary Helen Stefaniak is the prize-winning author of The Turk and My Mother, Self Storage and Other Stories, and The Cailiffs of Baghdad, Georgia. She lives in Omaha and Iowa City.

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The Turk and My Mother 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
wightknyte More than 1 year ago
Stefaniak has a wonderful way of developing her characters and the story. It really feels when I read that the story is told as only the characters themselves could tell it, just as the narrator himself notes the way that his grandmother tells stories. For me this makes the book an absolute delight to read. The story is so warm, so personal. I found it to be extremely emotionally engaging. At times laugh out loud funny, at others eyes tearing up touching, at all times interesting. In short, a marvelous book.