"A dark Conradian drama, set in a beautifully illuminated Istanbul, where the past is always with us."-Orhan Pamuk, Nobel Prize-winning author of Snow
In October 2005, only a few months after her Turkish husband and five-year-old son are detained by U.S. border patrol, Jeannie Wakefield disappears. She leaves behind in Istanbul a 53-page letter revealing a convoluted tale of political intrigue, intelligence operatives and Turkish teenage radicals, of a grisly murder and a dismembered body in a trunk. It is a grim and heartbreaking history of first loves shattered and best friends betrayed. Can Jeannie be saved? Is she as innocent as she seems?
Intricate and Thought Provoking
By Story Circle Book Reviews on Jul 04, 2008
Maureen Freely's Enlightenment is a complicated tale of lies, loyalties, and life that begins in 2005 when American ex-patriot Jeannie Wakefield's husband Sinan is arrested for terrorist links at JFK International Airport and her five-year-old son Emre is whisked away to foster care. Jeannie begs an investigative journalist known only as M to help her tell her story to the world and get her husband and son back. How far will M go to write the story of a suspected terrorist's wife, a woman who not only stole her one true love but also whose tale may put her own life at risk as well? Enlightenment has its roots in the 1970s in Istanbul, Turkey, and, through the letters and diaries of Jeannie Wakefield, takes the reader through several decades of political turmoil and character growth. Although the characters are imaginary, Freely meticulously follows historical events and cites real news articles. This makes her novel so realistic I questioned whether or not it was truly fiction. Several themes run strong through her novel: communism and the fear of its spread, the complicated international relations between the US, Turkey, and the Soviet Union, political freedom and the lack thereof, and the events of the 1970s that left the Middle East a very dangerous place to be an American. Freely's characters are complex and realistic. Their thoughts, beliefs, desires, and ambitions are well laid out, and her work is deeply detailed. There are several interesting plots occurring at once, and it is interesting to read Jeannie's diary to discover how her life choices and those of her closest friends have led her to where she is today. Enlightenment asks the reader to consider the state of post 9-11 America. "I ask all decent men and women in this court why they have condoned such vicious and illegal measures against my family," writes Sinan from his jail cell, where he is being held without trial. The lack of political freedom in Turkey is well laid out in this book, but what political freedoms are being denied in the United States as well? Freely carefully compares the communist-phobia of the 1970s to the Islam-phobia of our modern world. I enjoyed this book very much. Freely's characters are memorable, her story lines are intriguing, and the final result is thoroughly thought provoking. The ending is sure to shock you. How far would you go to tell the truth if you knew it could kill you? by Jennifer Melville for Story Circle Book Reviews reviewing books by, for, and about women
A gripping, stunning novel
By Vanessa Willoughby on Jul 21, 2009
Maureen Freely's Enlightenment is an insightful, gripping and timely narrative that not only reflects the author's journalistic background, but her ability to create believable and sympathetic characters. The integration of the Turkish perspective concerning the Cold War and the social and political state of post 9/11 Turkey never feels like heavy-handed a history lesson. Rather, it helps to highlight the personal history and character development of the protagonist, Jeannie Wakefield. The faceless journalist, M, entrusted with Wakefield's letter, is objective with the reconstruction of Jeannie's life, allowing the reader to digest the events as they unfold. Freely writes with confidence and authority, thus placing the trials and tribulations of love against a political background of volatile proportions.
By Victor Cresskill on May 17, 2011
I lived in Istanbul for nearly a decade; I've read and enjoyed a number of Orhan Pamuk's novels--some of them translated by Ms. Freely--and I was excited after reading a synopsis of this novel. Unfortunately, only one reviewer here seems to be honest: the book is indeed a mess. The biggest problem is that Ms. Freely, whatever her abilities as a translator, is not a good writer. She simply cannot write very interesting sentences. There are also numerous errors in punctuation and grammar. On page 13 "She swang around in her chair ..." Swang is not a word. Swung. I thought it was a typo, but later in the book "The door swang closed." So neither Ms. Freely nor her editor seems to be aware of how to conjugate the verb 'swing.' There are lines such as "My heart clouded over ..." An odd image since the heart is rarely visible, and when it is, clouds don't seem to figure in the image. "MY future looms before me like a guillotine." "... oceanliners and warships glistening with radar ..." Glistening? Radar does not make ships shiny. "Oh the horror of it! To assume love--only to be repulsed with pitying kindness." Aside from being badly rendered, this sentence is grammatically suspect as well. Most disappointing of all, even her descriptions of Istanbul, a city I know exceptionally well (probably better than any American city) are simply flat. They do not at all evoke the ambience of Istanbul. There's a quasi-favorable quote on the cover from Orhan Pamuk, but she is his translator, and he is hardly going to be objective. "A dark Conradian drama, set in a beautifully illuminated Istanbul, where the past is always with us." Look at it closely, though, and he has not said much. He made an accurate statement about Istanbul ("the past is always with us"), and it is NOT a light-hearted drama (although the Conradian aspect is certainly exaggerated ... maybe he is referring to "the horror" above). There's only one word that is truly a lie: "beautifully." There is nothing at all beautiful about this book. The characters have no depth or personality; they are so generic in fact it is hard to tell them apart. The plot is neither intricate nor very interesting. There is nothing remotely "gripping" or page-turning about the book. The pace is decidedly sluggish; it's blatantly disingenuous to state otherwise. In fact, despite my determination to finish the book (I paid a lot of money for it in an Istanbul bookshop, I enjoy the work of Ms. Freely's father, John, and it's set in a city I consider home), I gave up after about 200 pages. Unless you are reading simply for informational value, to learn something about Istanbul during a particular time period, you would do well to avoid this novel.
unique and haunting story
By Patricia Loftfjeld on Jul 19, 2009
I read this book for the first time more than a year ago when it came out in hardcover, and I find I am still haunted by the love story, by Jeannie's thwarted idealism, and by the questions it asks about marriage and friendship. I've reread it twice since, and have suggested it to my book club--there's so much to talk about in it, and the story is so powerful and surprising. Freely's portrayal of Istanbul is so picturesque and compelling that I actually ended up booking a trip to Turkey to see what place could possibly be that beautiful.
This novel is a mess.
By Ellen Embardo on Mar 31, 2010
This novel is a mess and is in dire need of an editor, both for content and for simple writing and spelling errors. There IS a difference between the word "to" and "too," for example. When one ends a sentence or paragraph with quotation marks, the beginning of the sentence or paragraph should also have the appropriate punctuation. And how does one spell Hacettepe University? Not the way it is spelled in the book. I found hundreds of such silly errors. More importantly, the deliberate obfuscations and confusions tried my patience to the very end. And the references to Istanbul felt more like geographic name dropping than an honest portrayal of that city, which I have visited four times while living in Turkey for two years. I feel cheated of what could have been a good story.
By M. Hitchcock on Jul 21, 2009
Loved it! If you ever want a nonfiction explanation of modern Turkish attitudes towards America, this is the book to pick up. Enlightenment walks the line between literary fiction and thriller; it mixes insights into nationalism, American-Turkish relations, how the Turks grappled with Communism with murders, disappearances, and spies. Every time the main character, M, seems to have established a fact, something else sets her belief into doubt. The book deals with the Turkey of today and the 1970s, which offers perspective into how attitudes have (and have not) changed. I was equally interested by M's narrative and the teenage diary of Jeannie, the missing wife of her ex-boyfriend, Sinan. Enlightenment was an easy and pleasurable read, and I felt like I learned something.
By Pamela Howard on Aug 04, 2009
I am so happy to see this in the New York Times this week! I came across this book recently and I have to say I was completely drawn in by the lovely cover. And then I saw Orhan Pamuk's quote on the front and I knew I'd have to read this one. I could not put this book down! The plot was so thick and prickly that I couldn't stop turning pages to find out what happened next. Never has a book made me want to travel so much, while at the same time making me feel like I've already been there. Istanbul really comes to life in this intricate political plot and the secrets at the heart of it all will give you chills. I would wholeheartedly recommend Enlightenment to anyone looking for a good thriller, or really anyone who has ever read a book. It was simply stunning.
Wonderful Setting and History
By Ohioan on Aug 09, 2011
What I enjoyed most about this book was the Turkish setting and characters and customs. I felt as if I were in another country. What I felt didn't work well was the plot, which for me didn't move forward in a compelling manner. In addition, most of the characters never came alive for me: I felt at times as if they were there to convey information about politics, and the more they served that purpose, the less they worked as interesting characters. But I think I would try another novel by this author.
The book stays with you
By Joyce L. Tompsett on Mar 31, 2011
A colleague of mine has borrowed the book and is going to read it and I cannot wait for her to read it so we can discuss it. I recommend reading this book when you have some time. It's not something you can pick up and put down and return to easily because of the complexity and interwoven nature of the plots. The things that happen in this book are frequently banal - or at least not very unusual. What is unusual is the mixture of the time, the place, the agendas of those involved and their cultural backgrounds that result in an ongoing story that truly is best served in the way the author wrote it. This is how real life unfolds afterall. Rarely do we see the threads laid out linear fashion. We run into people we haven't seen in years. They fill in their part of the story. We return years later to events that shaped who we are only to find out that things weren't the way they seemed. I suspect that people who live with or in 2 cultures will have an easier time with this book than people who have only been exposed to only one culture. I found myself going back and rereading sections of the book to remember what had been said/done and I loved the little bit of whodunit nature of the book that weaves through it. And I like the ending. I am not a fan of pat endings with all the threads neatly handed to me in a pretty bow. That said, I also despise when authors start something and then leave it out there and never resolve it to any degree, like an offramp to nowhere. This had the balance of being like life - an ongoing story - but giving you enough sense that you understood better what was going on. And interestingly enough, I found myself caring for many of the characters in this book. She does resist the urge to stereotype with a heavy hand.
A fascinating literary thriller
By Davi Strand on Jul 21, 2009
This is a riveting political thriller and a captivating portrait of contemporary Turkey. A tense page-turner, it is also brilliantly written. A perfect book not only for fans of political thrillers or people interested in Turkey, but also for anyone who's just looking for a great story.