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3.9 out of 5 stars
The Towers of Trebizond: A Novel
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66 of 68 people found the following review helpful
on March 18, 2004
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
An important book: this is Macaulay's last novel and one in which she reveals more of her own life, usually kept very private and guarded. Like the narrator, Macaulay carried on an affair with a married man for many years. At the time she wrote this book, she had returned to the Church of England; she herself, like Laurie (the narrator) in the novel, is inclined to the Catholic expression of that tradition. This book is a wonder: part travelogue, part comedy, it is also, remarkably, a serious commentary on faith and doubt. It deals with the difficulties, both moral and intellectual, entailed in being a Christian in today's modern world, with both church and society being what they are. This book, then, will both entertain you and make you think. For students of the English theologian Austin Farrer, I'd say that Laurie's situation in this book is an effective representation of what Farrer means by "initial faith": attracted but still divided, not ready to give full commitment to what the church stands for.
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36 of 37 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon December 16, 2003
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
Rose Macaulay's TOWERS OF TREBIZOND is unlike any other novel ever written. Basically a kind of travelogue of the narrator's travels through the Levant with her eccentric Aunt Dot, the smug Anglican Reverend Chantry-Pigg, and Aunt Dot's crazy camel (an important character in its own right), the novel comes to encompass much more: a meditation on East and West, a study of the contrasts between diffeerent forms of religion, and a very searching analysis of the need for religion in human experience. It's the kind of book you don't want to end, and even when it becomes somewhat wild and unbelievably allegorical (such as when the narrator trains an ape she acquires in Turkey to drive a car late in the work) you stay with it. It's the kind of book you can dip in again and again throughout your life: it works as well in bits and epigrams as it does as a sustained narrative.
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29 of 29 people found the following review helpful
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
It's always good to see an old favorite returned to print after many years. This always helps a new generation of readers to enjoy some writing that interested their previous generation. This book is touted as a very funny work, but I didn't think that it was all that humorous, at least to my mind. That isn't to say that I didn't enjoy the book, because I did, very much. The characters were well-drawn, and the travelogue portion of the work was first-rate. I thought of the book as more of a meditation on religion and its meaning to various people in the story, and I just loved the word pictures that the author painted on almost every page! Humor is in the mind of the beholder, and some of the book was indeed humorous; not in a laugh out loud vein, but rather in a quiet chuckling way. The work shows its age a bit, being almost 50 years old, but that doesn't make any diference in the story line. This is a good book to read, whatever your reason, and I highly recommend it.
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22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on June 22, 1997
Format: Paperback
More than 20 years ago I first read this book.. I found it in the library in my home town, Utrecht, The Netherlands. The first sentence: "`Take my camel dear', said my aunt Dot, as she climbed down from this animal on her return from High Mass", captivated me, and I couldn't stop reading. They had to send me home (with the book) when the library closed, several hours later. I read the book several times then. I tried to find it in the bookshops, but it seemed not to be avalilable. I got it from the library again and made a cover-to-cover photocopy. Later on I lost the photocopy (my first wife insisted that she kept it when we divorced). So when, on a visit to Cincinnati, I finally found it again in one of the bookstores, I was the happiest person in the world.
It is a magnificent book. It tells the story of a British (it is a very British book) woman, probably around 35 years old, traveling in Turkey, and Syria and Lebanon, with her aunt and a clergyman. It is as ironic as the British can be, and it gives some profound insights into the crooked world of Anglican High Church clergy. But it also is a book about love, and about the struggle when a woman who is religious in principle, falls into illegitimate love with a married man. It's a book about the choices we have in life (two of the characters choose to vanish into the Soviet Union, which must have been a brave thing to write about in England in the fifties). It is also one of the most tender books that I know: there are no villains in this book, just loved ones that are slichtly off the tracks.
Also, it portrais the protagonist as a writer/illustrator of travel books, which makes us realize that the book is about Rose MacAulay: a well-known writer of travel books about the Middle East. The way she describes the other writers-of-travel-books that roam the area is hilariously obnoxious (it's the only book I know that has somebody eaten by a shark in the Black Sea).
Having read the book, which you SHOULD, you will want to know about the author. I can recommend the short introduction in `The world my wilderness', which has recently become available again as a Virago Modern Classic. There you can read about some of the real life things that found their way into `The towers of Trebizond'. With this information the book became even more dear to me. But only read this introduction after you have read the book itself!
By the way, `The world my wilderness' is almost as captivating and tender and non-conventional as `The towers of Trebizond', be it slightly less accessible.
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30 of 33 people found the following review helpful
Format: Paperback
The Towers of Trebizond might mislead a reader who picks it up into thinking it to be a standard travel account of a journey to Turkey and the Middle East in the 1950s. However, the famous first line "Take my camel, dear . . ." will soon warn that there is much much more to this hilarious, odd little novel.

Rose Macaulay uses as narrator the ambiguously named Laurie. Most people assume Laurie is a woman, and there is some internal evidence to substantiate this, but as other reviewers have pointed out, Laurie could just as well be a man, and in some ways, the story makes more sense if he is.

Regardless of Laurie's gender, the story revolves principally around her/his Aunt Dot, one of the great British eccentrics, and her escapades on a journey through Turkey and into the Soviet Union. Her adventures, and those of Laurie, the camel, a monkey, and various other assorted characters, are hilarious. At the same time, there is a sad note of wistfulness tand a sense of loss and deprivation that are not quite so easy to sort out.

Read The Towers of Trebizond and laugh, but you'll be pondering it in more solemn moments for a long time to come.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on August 19, 2002
Format: Paperback
I picked up "Towers of Trebizond" mainly because of the title, as I am an avid reader of literature and travel writing on Turley. Macaulay's books seems simple and a good laugh at the first read, but is a book with many layers of meaning. Even the genre of the book is hard to define. On first look it is just a novel, on the second look, it's similar to a travelogue and is no doubt written based on the author's personal experiences. On the third level, it's a dissertation on religion and morality. Through recounting the travels of a group of English missionaries in Turkey, Macaulay brings out the importance of the differences between the East and West, in religion and culture, and also how one sticks to one's impression of the unknown (in this case, Russia) though one has no actual experience or encounter in this regard. The book is illuminating in its discussion of relationships, love, betrayal, friendship, religion and morality and it's ultimately about lives and the choices we make in them. What's right or wrong is not absolute and instead is relative to the environment one lives in. Through the beguiling humour of her characters, Macaulay is able to discuss important issues we confront in our lives without taking sides or being judgemental and leaves us to make our own conclusion about what we value and deem important.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on May 25, 2008
Format: Paperback
Before Americans had their Disneyland, the British had the Levant. During the middle decades of the last century, tourists and students--along with would-be missionaries, spies, and archaeologists--traversed the highways and byways between Istanbul and Jerusalem, crawling the bazaars and historic sites of the former Ottoman Empire and treating the locals as if they were attendants in a playground. Rose Macaulay was one of those sightseers, and she sends up her friends, her fellow Brits, and herself (thinly disguised as the narrator Laurie) in this mocking, introspective novel.

The plethora of travelers in the Middle East spawned its own genre; many of Laurie's friends "are all writing their Turkey books." Even Laurie and her aunt Dot are planning to publish one: "The trouble with countries is that, once people begin travelling in them, and people have always been travelling in Turkey, they are apt to get over-written." The irony, of course, is that Macaulay's parody of those "Turkey books" is one of the few that have survived to the present day.

Macaulay's style features a persistent drollness and the use of intentionally circular run-on sentences that enhances the wit and hilarity of the first half of the book, when Laurie, her aunt Dot, the blinkered Father Chantry-Pigg, and Dot's partially insane camel (re-imported from its stable in London) run across their fellow compatriots (and Billy Graham) crisscrossing the region and writing (or plagiarizing) their Turkey books. But that same drollness and meandering style serves equally well for the novel's melancholy, brooding second half, after Dot and the priest "disappear," leaving Laurie with a mad camel and hardly any money.

The solitude forces Laurie to confront her inability to reconcile her religion and her adulterous affair with a married man (it is to his ship that Laurie takes herself when she is nearly out of money), and these reflections address the larger issue of whether the pleasures of life and adherence to faith might be mutually exclusive. She wonders too about the role of religion in modern life in general, even aside from her adultery (which makes her simultaneously happy and unhappy and which she has no doubt is wrong, yet which she can't break off). "Theology seems the only science which does not keep adapting its views and its manuals to new knowledge as it turns up." Yet she is drawn to the "towers" of the Anglican Church: "The fact that at present I cannot find my way into it does not lessen, but rather heightens, its spell."

Macaulay keeps a tight reign on the weightiness of these meditations and arguments; after one contentious debate with a Catholic, a non-believer, and several other attendants at a party, "they left the subject and played croquet, which is a very good game for people who are annoyed with one another." And that, it seems, is her point: when it comes to religion, the joys of life itself constantly intrude. She offers no answers to the "eternal dilemma," and her doubts and wistfulness add unexpected depth to what might otherwise have been just another Turkey book.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on August 19, 2002
Format: Paperback
I picked up "Towers of Trebizond" mainly because of the title, as I am an avid reader of literature and travel writing on Turley. Macaulay's books seems simple and a good laugh at the first read, but is a book with many layers of meaning. Even the genre of the book is hard to define. On first look it is just a novel, on the second look, it's similar to a travelogue and is no doubt written based on the author's personal experiences. On the third level, it's a dissertation on religion and morality. Through recounting the travels of a group of English missionaries in Turkey, Macaulay brings out the importance of the differences between the East and West, in religion and culture, and also how one sticks to one's impression of the unknown (in this case, Russia) though one has no actual experience or encounter in this regard. The book is illuminating in its discussion of relationships, love, betrayal, friendship, religion and morality and it's ultimately about lives and the choices we make in them. What's right or wrong is not absolute and instead is relative to the environment one lives in. Through the beguiling humour of her characters, Macaulay is able to discuss important issues we confront in our lives without taking sides or being judgemental and leaves us to make our own conclusion about what we value and deem important.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on September 30, 2007
Format: Paperback
*MILD SPOILERS*

This is a sneaky book. It starts off one way--as a comic recount of eccentric, genteelly arrogant Brits (the narrator's Aunt and a high-church Anglican priest) on a quixotic mission to convert and reform Turkey. As told by the crazy Aunt's niece (?), Turkey itself (and the Turks' reaction to the Brits) is beautifully evoked. Then, a hint here, a little more explication there, then a major plot twist as the Aunt and the Priest disappear into the Soviet Union, and the book evolves into a profound rumination on love and faith, and the conflicts the two can engender.

The story is always told in an arm's length, almost unemotional, way. And I think the last page of the book, on the "eternal dilemma" of searching for the City on the Hill is one of the most moving and profound pieces of writing I have ever read.

The book is also hilarious. There is more than one LOL moment, but my favorite is when the narrator from her (?) Turkish phrase book confuses, "I don't speak Turkish well," with "Can you connect me with Mr. Yorum"--and then is introduced to a Mr. Yorum.

Kudos to whomever it was that noted that the gender of the narrator is never clearly identified. One tends to assume it is female, from the voice of the book, yet when you look back, you really don't know. The ambiguity just adds one more layer to an already many-layered book.

I'd like to conclude by noting my thanks to New York Review Classics. I have read something like twenty of them now, none of which I would have heard of, much less read, without their publication through this series. The editors have done a magnificent job in bringing back to new and more-than-deserved life these forgotten classics.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Format: Paperback
I stumbled across Rose Macaulay while browsing through the "New York Review of Books Classics". It turns out that the Towers of Trebizond was a great hit in the UK and US back in the 1950's. I highly recommend taking a look at those wonderful reprints of older books. All praise to the New York Review of Books.

This book is a mostly hilarious sendup of conventional society (primarily British, but others do not escape unscathed) in the form of a travelogue and memoir of a youngish upper middle-class English woman who travels to Turkey with her Aunt Dot and their High Anglican minister Hugh Chantry-Pigg. A camel, Billy Graham sightings, and a disappearance into Soviet Russia are involved in this wonderfully witty tale. Macaulay also sprinkles some philosophy along the way and a sudden and sobering twist at the end.

By turns quirky, eccentric, funny, and thoughtful, The Towers of Trebizond is a nugget well worth rediscovery.
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