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4.4 out of 5 stars16
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on 9 February 2000
When I was travelling in Turkey I met an Israeli guy in a youth hostel I visited, who was on the verge of giving me this book for free because he felt so strongly that I should read it. He gave me enough time to read just the prologue and the first chapter before changing his mind (quite justly) and giving the book to his daughter who was arriving in Istanbul that very day.
But I didn't need a whole chapter and a prologue to convince me that this was a book that I had to read; I'd decided that within the first few lines. Written by a man who takes as much time and care in his delivery of subtle and sometimes blatantly inflated wit and humour (the less we mention about the title the better); as he does in his probing of a culture riddled with intrigue and historic mayhem. Page after page we are driven deeper into the true Turkey; minus the carpet salesmen and the perfume sellers; free from the lobster gangs of British and German tourists. And the strange even bizarre thing is that we are led there by a man mildly amused (and perhaps thoughtfully obsessed) by a conical, possibly even comical, hat.
So I would like to thank that Israeli man for allowing me to briefly taste the way travel books should be written; because when I got back home Turkey and its people made a whole lot more sense. As did their headwear.
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on 6 September 2006
I was drawn to this book due to the historical connotations. I was also curious being Turkish myself. This book is about Turkey and its people - almost like a travel diary which tries to reflect the heart of its people.

In the first chapter I felt that the author was more influenced by his fantasies of the orient than reality. However, for me the book got stronger as the story evolved. I definitely enjoyed reading it. The book is consistent and full of objective observations about Turkey. The author also seems to have done a good amount of historical research or maybe was knowledgeable even before his travels.

This is an excellent read if you like history or are interested in the region. I give the book 4 stars for two reasons. First is that reading can get a little slow at times and it's difficult to maintain interest. Second although the author seems to refer to many western authors for his analysis of Turkish history there is not a single Turkish or Ottoman author/reference he has used in his reflections - with the exception of one Turkish novelist. (Since he speaks Turkish there is no language barrier.) This results in the book being a very strong and truthful reflection of a foreigner's perception of the country but fails to become a window into the heart of the Turkish people.
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on 1 August 2007
Venomously biased, full of distortions, mis-translation, and mis-quoted sources. Unless you already know a lot about Turkey and the Turkish language, stay away from this one. This book is a deliberate attempt to mislead. It disguises a deep-rooted contempt of Turkish culture and Turkish people behind a thin veneer of poisonous jokes. Its mean-spirited political agenda is never stated clearly - never out in the open, where the average reader might have enough information to argue with Seal's reasoning. Instead, the bias sticks like mud between the lines. This is an exercise in classic yellow journalism, communicating emotional bias in place of facts and reason.

Seal quotes sources out of context for the specific purpose of obscuring or reversing the original author's intent. For example, a reference to the classic travel account, "On Horseback Through Asia Minor," by Capt. Frederick Burnaby, directly reverses the explicitly stated position of Burnaby. In 1876 Burnaby traveled through Turkey to investigate the rumors of Turkish atrocities which were current in Europe at that time. Burnaby found NO evidence to support those rumors - instead, he was impressed with the fairness of Turkish treatment of the Armenians, and he was unimpressed with the cleanliness of the Armenians. Seal, the rumor-monger for a new age, takes one line of Burnaby out of context, and uses it to support his contention that the Turkish people are racist and unfair to Armenians and Kurds - and always have been. I only happened to catch this because I had just finished reading Burnaby myself - but it calls into question the honesty of all Seal's other references. Be warned that if you read this book, you will need to check every reference for accuracy and context.

I have lived five years in Turkey as a foreigner, and I speak Turkish - better than Seal, apparently. I can attest that Seal's attempt to portray the Turkish people as racist or ethnocentric is grossly unfair.

Seal claims to be fluent in Turkish, but his writing is filled with mis-translations and distortions. For example, he goes far out of his way, to a remote village, looking for the most reactionary backwaters of Turkish culture. During this excursion, he claims to be communicating with his guide entirely in Turkish (unlikely). The guide, a man from Istanbul (who almost certainly speaks good English) brings two shotguns, to shoot "Kurds." In Turkish, the word for Kurdish sounds very like the word for `wolf' - especially to foreign ears. So of course the shotguns are for wolves. For an very inexperienced Turkish speaker, it might be possible to make this mistake, on first hearing, but for the misunderstanding to continue he must be willing to believe the worst - that an educated man from Istanbul might go out shooting Kurds in the country on the weekend. Seal allows his "joke" to go on for almost four pages, and even then does not clearly explain his mistake, thus leaving a residue of suspicion, distrust, and ill-will.

He makes a routine practice of changing the names of Turkish towns - improvising mis-translations and using those in place of the honorable old names. He calls the town of Gaziantep `Warrior Pistachio' - just to be funny. But, while Gazi does mean something which might be translated as warrior, Antep does NOT mean pistachio. Many pistachio's are called `Antep' because that is where they come from, just as we might talk about Washington apples, or Florida oranges. He calls a village hospital `Blackberry General,' when in fact the name of the town does not mean Blackberry, and the direct translation of "Hastanesi" is simply `Hospital,' NOT `General.'

Seal says you have to be suspicious of any language which does not have its own word for sex. As always, his jokes are all at the expense of Turkey, always laughing AT his subject. But consider this: how good can Seal's Turkish really be if he doesn't even know any words for `sex?' There are probably as many words in Turkish as in English. (I don't know exactly - I haven't counted.)

Seal definitely has some political/racial axes to grind (especially with regard to the Kurds) but, beyond that, what he really seems to want most is for Turkey to devolve back a hundred years, to return to the bad old days of the declining Ottoman Empire. In this light, he resents and ridicules every advance the Republic of Turkey has made in the direction of modernization, and he mocks Ataturk - whose reforms prevent him from being able to effectively look down his disdainfully Imperialist nose, and thereby consider himself a real adventurer.

Seal travels around Turkey asking about fezzes and Sultans, and congratulating himself on how he has struck a nerve. He thinks upsetting people is a point for his side, but the reality is that some of his questions and presumptions are as inappropriate and offensive as a foreign tourist traveling around the American South hoping to photograph smiling African-Americans picking cotton by hand. If that same foreigner also interviewed KKK members and visited the Arian Nation (while ridiculing all other views), and then wrote about his experiences as the "REAL" America, what would we think of that? That's what Seal has done with Turkey.

He clearly despises his subject. Seal has carefully constructed an emotionally charged image of Turkey as a country which usurps power, and has no right even to exist. To this end, he painstakingly seeks out all the lunatics, fundamentalists, and reactionaries, and points out every Turkish transgression he can find, whether factually grounded or not. If you have lived in Turkey, speak Turkish, and have done some reading, you may want to read this for the purposes of argument. Otherwise steer clear.

The best contemporary Turkish travel book I know is sadly out of print, but you might find it [online]: "Journey to Kars," by Phillip Glazebrook. If you can't find that, Mary Lee Settle's "Turkish Reflections" is also very informative, and well researched.
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on 23 August 2012
This is the perfect guide to understanding the heart, history and culture of Turkey. The writer has just written a new book about travelling down the River meander in an inflatable kayak which is so funny as well as being totally enlightening. The two books complement each other so well. Jeremy Seal writes about the real Turkey. It's so refreshing to be able to view a people and its history without thinking of cheap holidays to Turkish beaches. This book will change the way you view Turkey for ever and his new book Meander really reinforces this. Well done Jeremy Seal!
Meander: East to West along a Turkish RiverA Fez of the Heart: Travels Around Turkey in Search of a Hat: Travels Through Turkey in Search of a Hat
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on 8 September 2011
I read this book some years ago now but have only recently started writing reviews after being prompted by my Kindle! Travel writing is my preferred topic and Seal is definately my first choice, regularly recommended to friends. An interesting topic tackled from an angle that attracted me, I found I was constantly learning while reading this book as well as being amused by Seal's humour throughout. This book made me seek out Seal's other works. Definately one I return to regularly.
I will endeavour to review more.
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on 11 November 2011
I have only ever written to one author, of many I have read. It was Jeremy Seal... in 1996! I told him his book was brilliant. It is still my favourite book ever. Beautifully written with a delightful understanding of the most magical country and truly beautiful race. Added to this... the strange events that make them so diverse a culture. Not European, not Asian, simple Turkish. Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant!
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on 16 November 2014
What an informative, well written and amusing companion to our road trip across Turkey. Giving a wonderful insight into 'the real Turkey' away from the more western experience of the more touristy coasts.
It helped us understand more of the Turkish mind, the history, the geography whilst enjoying the anecdotes.
We even found a man selling Fezs

Thank you
Andrew and Ann
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on 14 July 2015
It's every bit as good a read as other people have rated it.
As well as the storyline you get some fascinating insights into Turkish history and culture.
You can put it down and pick it up again as you wish, but you'll probably just keep reading!
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on 6 May 2014
Excellent read, perceptive, sensitive and very informative - especially if read
whilst on holiday in Turkey itself - it is actually a very good guide
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on 2 March 2016
I thought it was a bit shabby - some of the pages were folded back but the content was as good as I expected it to be.
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