I have wanted to read something by this author for some time. He came recommended as a truly unique voice, with the additional interest of being a Turk steeped in the mores and traditions of his country and yet able to view them with some satirical distance.
SO I was very happy to discover this volume and was not disappointed. It is a first-rate historical novel set in the Ottoman Empire during the beginning of the Enlightenment in Europe. Without giving away any secrets, the plot follows a young Venetian university graduate who is enslaved and given to a Turkish savant, who wishes to learn from him as much as he can. From the most horrible humiliations and labor, the young Venetian rises to the top of Ottoman society, all the time battling to maintain an identity independent from his owner.
The historical details are fascinating and often very funny. The reader witnesses the limits of proto-science in a more of less Medieval Islamic culture, which is viewed as half magic but also as full of potential power. Then there is the Ottoman court, in which the slave and his owner become key players through guile and some scientific accomplishments, in particular during the plague. The intrigues are full of tension and mystery, a world glimpsed but not wholly explained in a perfect balance of novelistic art.
Finally, there is the inter-play between slave and owner, a conflict that is brutal and terrifying and yet a rare treat for the reader. The psychology of this conflict, I found, is extremely profound and realistic, showing the effect that each had on the other as the years passed. It is also full of surprises.