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Harem: The World Behind the Veil Paperback – February 1, 1991

26 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This study considers the everyday lives of odalisques, the harem as the Moslem equivalent of purdah and male-dominated harem life as symbolic of the collective unconscious. "Ultimately, the text is a choppy amalgam of history, reminiscence, conjecture and intermittently overblown writing," said PW . "Much more evocative are the 125 photographs and reproductions of art works included here."
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Abbeville Press; Reprint edition (February 1, 1991)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1558591591
  • ISBN-13: 978-1558591592
  • Product Dimensions: 10 x 7 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.9 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #464,648 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

Alev Lytle Croutier is the most widely published woman novelist of Turkish origin whose books have been translated into 23 languages.
Croutier was born in Izmir, Turkey, studied Literature at Robert College in Istanbul, Art History at Oberlin College,and film Studies at NYU. She has written and directed films in Japan, Turkey, Europe, and the US and was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship (the first ever for a screenplay)for "Tell Me a Riddle," based on Tillie Olsen's acclaimed novel.
Croutier also founded Mercury House publishing company in San Francisco and served as the executive editor for almost a decade--editing numerous books, and actively supporting writers in diverse cultures, including Nobel recepients, in getting published.
Croutier has been in numerous radio shows and TV documentaries. She has also taught at Dartmouth, Goddard, and San Francisco State Universities and lectures frequently at academic institutions, museums, libraries, and conferences on Orientalism, Middle Eastern women, harems, and Turkish culture.


Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

48 of 51 people found the following review helpful By E. A. Lovitt HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on October 2, 2002
Format: Paperback
This book could be considered a companion to "Inside the Seraglio" by John Freely. Whereas the latter volume describes the harem from the point of view of the Sultan, this book describes it from the point of view of the women. The author herself lived in Turkey, in an old building that was once the harem of a pasha. Her paternal grandmother, Zehra, lived in a harem until 1909 when the institution was abolished and declared unlawful after the fall of Abdulhamid, the last Osmanli Sultan.
"Harem" is lavishly illustrated with photographs, Turkish woodcuts, and Persian miniatures of tastefully clad ladies within their private world. There are also paintings of what European artists imagined (for the most part) the interior of a Turkish bath or seraglio might look like. "La grand Odalisque" by Ingres adorns the cover and Gérôme, Delacroix, Renoir, and John Frederick Lewis are among other European artists whose paintings embellish these pages.
The details of everyday life in a wealthy sultan's harem (the author focuses on the Seraglio of Topkapi Palace in Istanbul) stuns the reader's senses. Dinners were set on velvet cloths embroidered with silver. The napkin rings were mother-of-pearl set with diamonds. The sherbet might have been concocted from the essence of violets or roses, as well as more commonplace fruit juices.
And the clothing! Veils of sheerest muslin, tasseled caps of velvet embroidered with pearls, trousers of Bursa silk, vests and girdles encrusted in precious stones. European males may have fantasized about the state of undress in a harem (as witnessed by their paintings), but their wives and daughters--those who were fortunate enough to actually visit a harem--wrote home about the intricate and beautiful costumes.
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35 of 41 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 13, 1999
Format: Paperback
Harem wins five stars for book design, and only one for content. Alev Lyttle Croutier obviously spent a tremendous amount of time finding artwork to illustrate her book. However, most of the paintings that she selected are elaborate European orientalist fantasies of Haram life and not actual historicaly relevant pieces. Perhaps Ms. Croutier should have spent a little more time researching her topic. Aside from some pretty staggaring historical mistakes and gross generalizations about Islam, the book contains very little usefull information for scholars. Most of Haram: World Behind the Viel focuses on a single royal Turkish Haram - with very little cross-cultural analysis. If you are interested in orientalist art or detailed descriptions of eunich castration than this is the book for you, but if you are looking for actual scholarship - look elsewhere.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By gzlatnik@ia.net on November 19, 1998
Format: Paperback
"Harem"--beautifully and imaginatively illustrated--perpetuates the western myths about the Muslim harem, the women's quarters of the household, whether luxurious or shabby. Readers should recognize that few of the glorious illustrations, most of which show European women in various states of elaborate undress, have anything to do with the reality of the sultan's harem, the truth of which has been filtered through the eyes of western travelers who could never have been omitted to the harem. This is a not a scholarly account, by any means, but a wide-ranging collection of fascinating images.
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11 of 14 people found the following review helpful By spideranansie on July 17, 2001
Format: Paperback
Croutier's book has some of the loveliest paintings on Harem life, ever. It also tries to deal with different areas of Harem life during the Ottoman Empire, and I especially appreciated the part about the black eunuchs and how the Harem ladies had to cope with the fall of the Empire and return to their families or learn to find their own living. However, I do agree that it was a little superficial and the subject matter should have been explored in greater depth. However, Croutier's book remains a good insight into a part of Ottoman history that was usually shut out from the rest of the world. Interesting, also is that modern Turkey's entire image rests on the fact that it's a country for "Turks" -- whatever that means. How TURKISH is a nation really, when their own rulers in the past mated with Europeans and Westerners....another one of the dilemmas of this wonderful nation. A good book to start off beginners interested in Turkish history and culture as a whole. Croutier does justice to a subject that's prone to sensationalism and exoticism.
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18 of 24 people found the following review helpful By "smerrill127" on July 24, 2002
Format: Paperback
This book is a great introduction to the world of the imperial harem. It's packed with interesting information, but not too dense to enjoy. Croutier has a personal edge over most harem writers: All the women of her family lived in harems, and taught her about them. They taught her the important things to be pleasing to a man, such as removing the body hair with a homemade lotion, the particular use of henna, and making excellent Turkish coffee. The paintings add more than just prettiness; they illustrate the feelings and ideas about harems throughout the ages. This book is matter-of-fact, yet accepts that many Westerners had and still have very erotic, exotic ideas about harems, leading to flights of fantasy. But one cannot forget that the women in harems were real women, and not just playtoys. Croutier shows us this by translating a poem found on the wall of the Seraglio:
For a two-bit
Mirror lost,
This sitting here is caught
By the men of the century.
The odalisque had been "imprisoned for stealing a cheap mirror." These women, the slaves and sultanas alike, made the best of their lives as they could, and the author has turned their stories into a beautiful, inspiring book. A round of applause for Alev Lytle Croutier.
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