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The Turk and My Mother Hardcover – June, 2004


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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Storytelling is at the heart of Stefaniak's (Self Storage and Other Stories) lovingly crafted volume of three interwoven family tales (subtitled "A Novel"), which captures the history of a Croatian-American family settled in Milwaukee after World War I. The book's Decameron-esque framework is set from the beginning as George, the first-generation American son of Josef and Agnes, is on his deathbed, surrounded by his adult children. The stories he tells about life in Milwaukee in the 1930s lead to stories-within-stories told by his grandmother Staramajka, the family matriarch, who steals the show. "My father's mother had her own style of storytelling, a style that avoided accommodating her listeners in any way.... You had to hear about the fence cleverly woven of branches, the dirt yard full of chickens, the four fat pigs that her son sold off when our mother was pregnant." A master of digression, Staramajka lingers over the details of village life as she tells of her daughter-in-law's secret love for a Turkish prisoner of war, her son Marko's wartime disappearance and miraculous return from Soviet Russia, and her own mysterious relationship with a blind gypsy called Istvan. She fades into the background only in the final story, in which yet another secret history is revealed, this one featuring Kata, the illegitimate daughter of a Polish woman with a traumatic past and a connection to George's family. Stefaniak's easy familiarity with the vernacular idioms of the old country and the new, and her zestful, respectful ear for different voices, create a world whose past, present and story-loving afterlife are at once magical and grounded in reality.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

A prim woman who swoons at the sight of Omar Sharif and a grandmother who once traveled with Gypsies are among the characters in this radiant debut inspired by Stefaniak's immigrant Milwaukee family. A novel rooted in real-life characters and events, the story is narrated by the author's octogenarian father, George Iljasic (who, in reality, died at age 59). Tales of Iljasic's ancestors reveal a cast of colorful characters, from his mild-mannered mother, Agnes, who had an affair with a tall, dark-eyed Serbian war prisoner (who she thought was a Turk) to his grandmother, Staramajka, who enjoyed a spirited friendship with a blind violinist. Fans of Amy Tan and Carol Shields will revel in the themes of remembrance, forgiveness, family devotion and forbidden love. When daughter Mary Helen returns to the Old Country in the wake of her father's death, she "discovers" flesh-and-blood proof that at least one of his tales is true. Or is it? In this warmhearted, inventive novel, the truth seems beside the point. Allison Block
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 316 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; First Edition edition (June 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393059243
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393059243
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.8 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,175,361 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
5 star
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4 star
30%
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See all 10 customer reviews
I truly had a difficult time putting the book down!
Barbara Grant
When she told me that the guy was not actually a Turk, I had to tell her that naming the book so would help sell much better!!lol.
Tolga
Stefaniak has a wonderful way of developing her characters and the story.
D. S. Atkinson

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Luan Gaines HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on June 14, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Years ago, the radio was the centerpiece of the evening in American homes. Families gathered to listen to serials, news reports and movie gossip columnists. Many of the same families shared a valued tradition of storytelling, tales they brought over from "the old country", where generations shared births, deaths, marriages, joyful events and tragedies. These stories gave meaning and texture to their days, reminding the adults who told them and the children who listened, of their rich heritage in the world.
The Turk and My Mother awakens these memories, tales of adventure, danger and often romantic foolishness. Who would have thought a stubby little grandmother in a shapeless dress and babushka would have had romantic dreams of a man other than her husband? The children are fascinated, challenged to view their grandmother in a different light, as a girl entertaining the fancies of youth, when her husband was far away in America?
And who could guess how much was fable, how much was truth? What really happened to Uncle Marko and why did it take him 13 years to return from the war to his small Hungarian village, hoping to see his mother once more? What lies behind the story of the Polish vampire, how does removing a birthmark save a life? Can you learn to play violin from a blind musician? Would Marko ever imagine his mother, Agnes, nurtured romantic notions of a handsome Turk (who maybe wasn't really a Turk) before sailing away to find her husband Josef in America? And exactly how much did Aunt Madeline remember about the Turk who held her on his knee when she was five-years old?
Through the stories of this particular Milwaukee immigrant family, the Catholic Church weaves its constraints and conditions for acceptance, the priest a powerful figure.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Barbara Grant on July 7, 2004
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I truly had a difficult time putting the book down! The author had a wonderful sense of the era and people, and the story flowed beautifully. It was such a good book, I really didn't want it to come to an end!
I look forward to more works by this author and hope she keeps on writing and writing.
Bravo!
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Suzanne M. Carey on March 15, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Once every year or so I read a book so good that I won't lend it to anyone, even best friends or immediate family. Although I have read all the pages and will recommend it to all who will listen, I am never finished with such a book. I need it on the shelf nearest my desk, available whenever I want to reread a favorite passage or look up a forgotten detail as I think upon the story. The Turk and My Mother by Mary Helen Stefaniak rests on that shelf, a treasure not to be lent.

In a manner reminiscent of the stories my grandmother told of her youth, dying George Iljasic tells three interwoven tales -- of his mother and the Turk (who wasn't really a Turk), of his grandmother and the blind gypsy fiddler, and of himself and Kata, the Kaszube girl. Beautifully crafted and elegantly written, the book brims with unique, though not always likeable, characters, who love, suffer, and endure with quiet nobility.

Although engaging from the start, Stefaniak's message gently emerges in the middle tale when Staramajka (the grandmother) dies and in the grave realizes it is easy to forgive, but it is equally necessary to forget as you "sift through hours and days and years until you [find] the gray morning or the sunny afternoon or the blue evening or the darkest night when you were most truly who you are."

As the layers of past relationships unfold and George's life winds down, we share his universal regrets, make peace with what cannot be undone, and unlike George, realize we still have time to say or act upon the unfinished affairs of our hearts, although like George, we probably won't.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By B. Speer on March 7, 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
My book club read this book and everyone enjoyed it. Ms Stefaniak has a very lyrical writing style that is a pleasure to read. The only complaint any of us had is that the story was confusing at times and hard to piece together, thus, a 4 versus 5 star rating. As Ms Stefaniak notes in the author Q&A, she'd like for readers to come to a new understanding upon reaching the end of the book and to want to read it anew. If it weren't for our book club discussion, I probably would have done just that in order to catch the things and connections I missed, but that others in the book club did pick up. It is a good read and I recommend it.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By L. U. AMERSON on February 16, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book makes you wish you had paid better attention to the stories your parents and grandparents told you... The stories within the story, the meshing of lives, are all so wonderfully and masterfully told by Mary Helen Stefaniak.
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