As Esin and Kübra form an intimate friendship, the chapters of the novel open out onto each woman's emotional and sexual experience in turn. The cultural divisions of contemporary Turkey are dramatized through their personal lives and the dynamics within their families.
Each woman's curiosity about the other's mysterious world gradually takes on a boldly erotic character. At first interested in the external trappings of each other's lives, they embark on a journey of spiritual and sensual discovery whereby each woman comes to know 'The Other.'
About the Author
Ece Vahapoglu is one of Turkey’s best-known broadcasters, a prominent media personality with her own TV shows and best-selling books and a celebrity wellness role model.
Victoria Holbrook is currently a self-employed writer and translator. She received her M.A. and Ph.D. both in Near Eastern Studies from Princeton University.
Read an Excerpt
By Ece Vahapoglu
Wimbledon Publishing CompanyCopyright © 2009 Ece Vahapoglu
All rights reserved.
"Have you ever kissed a woman?"
Kubra was startled. This was a question she had not expected. They often sparred in conversation and she was used to Esin's curiosity about the religious life and the turban, but she wasn't ready to have such a subject spoken of out loud.
"N ... no," she managed to say.
Esin averted her gaze shyly, with a slightly flirtatious air and looked up at the ceiling. She gently tossed back her blonde hair.
"Hmmm. I've never tried it either. I wonder what it's like to kiss someone of the same sex."
What was Esin trying to say?
Kübra felt uncomfortably hot. Her own emotions frightened her, probably for the first time in her life. She felt guilty and ashamed. She longed to sense Esin's skin, feel her breath and lie down beside her.
She wanted her.
She couldn't sleep for several nights. She had crossed the line; she felt attracted to a woman. She had always wanted to love innocently. She didn't want anyone to know. She didn't even want Esin to know. She was ashamed.
Kübra enjoyed being with a woman who'd married for love. She enjoyed Esin's company more than that of the boy she was being forced to marry. Her fiancé did not excite her at all. Maybe deep down, she envied Esin, who could tell? Esin felt a secret bond with this girl, although Kübra came from a world she knew nothing about. Through Kübra's eyes she saw herself differently. Without her, she might never have discovered the woman she now saw in herself: a woman who could love the other without prejudice, welcome her into her life; a different sort of woman, one who didn't shun religion; a person not all that different from Esin but someone she hadn't known existed until now.
They were both experiencing feelings they'd never had before. They couldn't figure each other out but were growing closer and enjoyed the time they spent together. They seemed to fill each other's unfinished spaces.
This was a moment they would never forget, one that might even hold a bit of happiness they would not be able to measure. The electricity between them filled the room. Would what seemed inevitable be realized?
That tiny moment seemed to last for hours. They felt so strange they could not even look one another in the eye and smile. This was something rare, a chance not everyone had. A girl engaged to be married, a married woman; one veiled, one not. What was this? What kind of pull was this? Was it love? Mutual attraction? Curiosity? A quest for new experiences? Did they want to be with each other? Learn something? Or was it a game?
They had run into each other a few months earlier at an award ceremony, and that insignificant coincidence took them to a place they'd never expected to be.
Six Months Earlier
She looked into the bright spot lit mirror one last time. Her make-up was right, bringing out her straight blonde hair and big blue eyes. In a few moments, she would walk out to face a select audience of five hundred.
She was a young woman who preferred to make her own destiny. She took orders from no one, was rarely intimidated, and did not get lost in the crowd. She was not the sort to live according to the expectations of others; she did not let herself go with the flow. You could say she was a bit of a narcissist. She'd obeyed her parents as a child but did not let her lovers lead her around when she grew up, and she wasn't dominated by her husband now. And if she had children someday, she was not going to be restricted by that either.
In her country, unions between women, "free" by Western standards, and Eastern-style men, offered some hope, though they might not go smoothly. Turkey's role as a bridge between East and West had become confusing for everyone by now, foreign or Turk. One lived a modern life in all senses while respecting tradition. This was a society nurtured on differences. Some were lucky enough to make a synthesis of it all but others did not know who they were.
Like other girls educated abroad by their Westernized families, Esin had a comfortable life compared to the general run of society. She'd had lovers before she married, did as she liked and traveled; she had a broad social life and work that put her before the public. True, girls from conservative backgrounds too were having freer relationships these days and trying to choose their own professions.
After studying in the States, she had returned to Istanbul and done public relations and marketing for several companies. While working in the international news section of a TV station, she'd taken lessons in diction and begun hosting evening business events, award ceremonies and select gatherings. She liked being out front; she liked her work.
Once again, she was hosting an award ceremony, this one for "The Most Successful Personalities of the Year" chosen by a financial magazine. Although the winners were supposed to have been selected by the magazine's readers, it was clear at a glance that, that was not really the case.
The awards had been given in line with the loyalties of the conservative publishing group that put out the magazine. True, the "Businessman of the Year" and "Businesswoman of the Year" were prominent, modern personalities but the other award winners represented a "certain" social sector.
The name of the "Entrepreneur of the Year," Hikmet Akansan, seemed familiar to her. He was often mentioned in the press but she knew the name in another connection.
For now, she had to focus and put such thoughts aside. She was about to go onstage and give the presentation.
Esin Ulucan Aksoy had taken part in a continuous string of such events during the last few years and this one did not unnerve her. She impressed people with her speech, her fine diction, her lively tone and emphasis; her presentations were a success. It was the pleasant thrill of being out in front of people that made her heart beat faster for a few seconds. When she first started doing this work, she had not been able to control her nerves. She used to have to press her hands on her breast and take a few deep breaths before she could walk out to the podium. And when she did go out on stage, she felt completely naked before the crowd. Only after she began reading out the text in her hand, did her self-confidence return, and the sense of being naked in public pass.
The lights went down in the large, air-conditioned hall. The music started, the spotlight fell on Esin, and she walked out onto the stage. The wireless microphone attached around the back of her head to her ears clashed a bit with the classic style of her beige suit but it was the most comfortable sort of microphone for this kind of work. She looked out toward the audience, glanced imperceptibly at her notes, and began. As she uttered the word "welcome," the hall exploded with applause. She introduced the first speaker. Then one by one, she called the award winners and award presenters to the stage.
The Minister of Finance was presenting The "Entrepreneur of the Year" award to Hikmet Akansan. Esin's attention was drawn to a slight stirring in the front rows of the audience. She saw a familiar face in a seat just behind the protocol row but couldn't make out who it was. A young woman with her head veiled was clapping enthusiastically. "She's probably a relative of Akansan," Esin thought.
In recent years, she'd begun to see more turbaned women at these sorts of events. The change taking place in the protocol row was arresting. It was a tableau reflecting the change in the country, and it was engraved on Esin's consciousness.
As the flash of the cameras exploded and pictures were taken, Esin was thinking, "Who was that girl?"
The award winners overdid their expressions of gratitude at the microphone and the ceremony ended later than it should have. By the time she came down off the stage, she noticed that her high heels were killing her. She took a seat in the audience once the crowd had gradually begun to disperse. Just as she was thinking, "If only everyone would leave, so I can get out of these high heels and put on my Babettes," the girl in the turban she'd seen a little while before, came up to her. "You were great, it was a lovely ceremony. Congratulations," she said nervously. "I got a bit excited when my father received an award." She paused and continued: "Actually, I wanted to say something else. I think we went to the same school. I'm Kübra ..."
Esin was thinking it couldn't be in lycée, because her lycée here in Istanbul didn't allow girls to wear the turban. So it must have been a college in the States, in New York.
Kübra had apparently got over her reticence, for she was speaking in a friendlier tone.
"We never talked to each other at school but I remember you. You've changed your hair color."
"Yes, I'm a blonde now," Esin said a bit haughtily. "I don't remember your hair. How could I, since I never saw it ..." She stopped. Was this any time to say something like that? If only she could control that tongue of hers! What was it to her if the girl's head was covered? Especially, here ... And her father was one of the award winners.
Kübra frowned, realizing what Esin meant. She remembered how wearing a veil had served her as a shield in the crazy rush of New York City. She found peace of mind in being veiled. She withdrew into her own world and the madness of the world outside didn't bother her.
Now there was tension, even if not a lot. Esin sat there uncomfortably, not knowing how to restart the conversation. She knew it wouldn't help to say something flattering. Just then, Kübra's father Hikmet Bey came up to them.
"So, you know each other?"
"Yes, Papa, we went to school together in the States. She was in her last year when I started," said Kubra.
Surprised Kübra would have known that, Esin turned to her father and held out her hand. "Congratulations on your award." Hikmet Akansan did not like to shake women's hands but in recent years, he had had to get used to such civil behavior because of his rising position. He shook Esin's hand.
Hikmet Bey's presence warmed things up a bit. Esin turned to Kübra, wanting to repair the blunder she'd made: "Can you give me your telephone number or business card?"
Kübra smiled. "I've just started working in my father's company, and I don't have a business card yet but I can give you my cell phone number."
Esin noticed how sweet and pretty her face was when she smiled. The scarf and long coat she wore concealed her beauty. Esin had involuntarily focused on her dress and paid no attention to anything else. How that smile changed her whole appearance!
Father and daughter said goodbye and left.
Esin left the hall soon after. To avoid the parking ordeal, she had chosen not to come in her car. She jumped into a taxi and fished around in her purse for her cell phone. She looked at the time; it was almost nine. Alp had asked her to call when she was finished with work. Maybe they would meet out somewhere.
Sometimes, happiness is crossing off something on your to-do list. You feel better when you get things done.
Esin was full of adrenaline after a successful job and never wanted to go home and put up her feet or sleep, no matter how tired she was. She'd rather relax by going to see friends and chat. For her, the point of working was to be able to create a style of life which pleased her. She believed she would be happy in her private life if she was successful at work. Her husband felt the same way. They didn't see being male or female as superior; they thought they completed one another.
Alp's voice was warm on the phone: "Did my baby finish her job?" he asked as soon as he picked up. There were other voices in the background, so he must be out somewhere. "Yes, darling, I've left the hotel. Where are you?"
"The weather was so nice, Volkan and I came up to Bebek. We're at Lucca. Come and join us."
It was perfect. She would enjoy sharing the sweetly tired thrill of work well done while her adrenaline was at its peak.
In fine weather, Istanbul traffic was always like rush hour. Though the taxi driver leaned on his horn, trying to pass, he wasn't having much success making progress down the shore road.
As they approached Bebek, she thought how much the sweet little shore village looked like Sausalito. She'd heard so much about that seaside town. She'd visited it while traveling around the States two years ago. The moment she got there, she thought: "It's the image of Bebek!"
After some delay, she arrived at the latest Turkish Sausalito hot spot – the Lucca Cafe. She wanted to be in a crowd but was glad it wasn't the meat market it usually was. She wanted to kiss her handsome young husband as soon as possible, not make her way across the room, stopping to greet everyone she knew.
Alp and Volkan were talking stocks as usual. Maybe they just did that when she was around, putting on a workaholic air, who knew. She was sure they talked about women when she wasn't there. Volkan worked in advertising but played the market as well. He knew which stocks had peaked, which were on the rise, and which were expected to fall. He didn't like to call it "playing the market"; he "invested."
However good it was for a man to be successful, it was boring for him to go on and on about it when he was with his wife or lover. Sometimes, Alp and Volkan so overdid their stock talk, it would have been more exciting if they talked about the eternal rivalry between the soccer teams, Galatasaray and Fenerbahçe. Esin still couldn't fathom why these two good friends suddenly became enemies when the subject turned to soccer. One day, Alp had said: "When you're passionate about something, it goes beyond logic. The other is a stranger, your enemy. A Fenerbahçe supporter isn't likely to put up with a Galatasaray fan."
Esin realized they'd been on stocks for half an hour. "Enough, boys, I can't breathe. Isn't there something else to talk about?" She didn't mean to scold them but like every woman when she's out with her man, she wanted to be the center of attention. She'd been married to Alp for six months and wanted his feelings for her to always stay fresh. Passion shouldn't cool in a few months. Though many women in the world of finance had been in love with Alp before they'd married, he now belonged to her. His mind should be on his beautiful young wife.
Ah! Sometimes, it made life unbearable to always be expecting things. If only she could really "love without expectations" ... Fat chance. Just one more thing she knew she should do but couldn't!
She was sitting with her father in the back seat of the black Mercedes their bearded chauffeur Cenan Efendi drove. The car was new, thanks to Hikmet Bey's increasing success in the past few years. They must have been suffering their share of Istanbul's traffic fate, for the car only managed to inch across the Bosphorus Bridge. Kübra and her father, Hikmet Bey, talked little as they drove to their home in Ümraniye district. There was always a certain distance between them. They were not quite intimate, nor were they cold to one another. Hikmet Bey did not have a male heir and had decided to groom his middle daughter, Kübra, to take over the business when the time came.
He was an enterprising man. He was cool-headed by nature. He used his composure as a shield. He was the sort of person who seized victory silently; he knew how to get things done. It could even be said that he had amassed a fortune in the last few years. His marriage to Nadide Hanim was arranged when he was very young and they had three children. Their eldest daughter married and had children early. She led the life of a housewife. The youngest was still in school.
Their middle daughter, Kübra, was the boldest of the three. She had studied hard and wanted to work hard and be a success. She was not the sort of young woman to be interested in marriage. Her father realized this about her, and although his peers did not look kindly upon career women, he'd made a place for her by his side and begun to teach her the business.
New Istanbul suburbs like Ümraniye began as settlements built by conservative migrants from the countryside, and although Ümraniye, on the Anatolian side of the Bosphorus, was the most swiftly urbanizing of these districts and its population was increasing rapidly, it was exemplary in preserving its conservative character. Hikmet Bey had moved there as a youth. It formed a striking mosaic of neighborhoods rich and poor which reflected the country's most recent era of development with its own up-to-date modern high society as well as secluded networks of families insulated from urban life.
Excerpted from The Other by Ece Vahapoglu. Copyright © 2009 Ece Vahapoglu. Excerpted by permission of Wimbledon Publishing Company.
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