Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Reading Your Destination: Trabzon, Eastern Turkey

Balkan Travellers   
The Towers of Trebizond | Rose Macaulay. 1956
While visiting the contemporary town of Trabzon on the Turkey’s eastern Black Sea coast, one is unlikely to stumble upon the spirit of this remarkable book. Modern and chaotic in a typical Turkish way, and a bit grey, the city can be disappointing for those who visit it after being captivated by Rose Macaulay’s unconventional imagination.

Yet, to visit Trabzon and not read this book is certainly a bigger mistake.

The western world learned about the region of Trebizond and the nearby Byzantine monastery Sumela from the accounts of travellers and writers, the first of whom was Marco Polo. But in later time it was The Towers of Trebizond that defined its idea of this part of Turkey.

The city, which gained fame for its magical architecture, lavishness, intrigues and peculiar habits, is the final destination of a journey across Turkey at the beginning of the twentieth century. Written by Rose Macaulay with a healthy dose of British sarcasm, it takes the reader across a succession of ancient empires, religious strife and recollections of a lost love – all memories that contemporary Trabzon has hidden well in its modernity. Reading the book is like gaining a special pair of eyes that allow for these memories to be identified and admired.


"'Take my camel, dear,' said my aunt Dot, as she climbed down from this animal on her return from High Mass." So begins The Towers of Trebizond, the greatest novel by Rose Macaulay, one of the eccentric geniuses of English literature. In this fine and funny adventure set in the backlands of modern Turkey, a group of highly unusual travel companions makes its way from Istanbul to legendary Trebizond, encountering potion-dealing sorcerers, recalcitrant policemen, and Billy Graham on tour with a busload of Southern evangelists. But though the dominant note of the novel is humorous, its pages are shadowed by heartbreak—as the narrator confronts the specters of ancient empires, religious turmoil, and painful memories of lost love.” – Jan Morris

The Towers of Trebizond is not an encyclopedia in disguise. It is a novel and a good one.
— Maurice Dobier

Rose Macaulay's The Towers of Trebizond is an utter delight, the most brilliantly witty and captivatingly charming book I have read since I can't remember when....Fantasy, farce, high comedy, lively travel material, delicious japes at many aspects of the frenzied modern world, and a succession of illuminating thoughts about love, sex, life, organized churches and religion are all tossed together with enchanting results.
The New York Times

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