- Paperback: 313 pages
- Publisher: Picador; 1st edition (March 4, 2008)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 9780312426194
- ISBN-13: 978-0312426194
- ASIN: 0312426194
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.7 x 8.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 8 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,947,030 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Dervishes: A Novel Paperback – March 4, 2008
From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Helms's mesmerizing debut novel (after story collection American Wives) takes readers to Ankara, Turkey, in the mid-1970s, where 12-year old Canada lives with her mother, Grace, and her father, Rand, whose intelligence career is shrouded in secrecy and sends the family to far-flung locales. By the time they're posted to Ankara, Canada is grappling with the inevitable insecurities and yearnings of puberty, and Grace feels trapped in a loveless marriage. Even when Rand is home, he shows little interest in domestic affairs, leaving Grace mainly to socialize with other Western expatriates and a small circle of wealthy Turks. Partly as a consequence of having lived so long in a world of secrets and cover stories, Grace hasn't learned how to relate to people (or how to let them relate to her), while Canada is mired in her own parallel, secretive universe of cruel adolescence. Helms uses dazzling imagery to mine the cultural and economic divides between the diplomatic enclaves and Turkish Ankara, as well as the chasm between Canada and Grace, which widens as they seek validation outside their home, with unforeseen consequences. Elegant prose and exacting insight illuminate Helms's tale of intrigue and deception. (Mar.)
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“Set against a backdrop of clashing cultures, Dervishes is a story of duplicity, betrayal, and the cost of keeping secrets. . . . A brilliant, moving, and utterly riveting debut. The end will leave you gasping.” ―Sara Gruen, author of Water for Elephants
“Not since Arundhati Roy's The God of Small Things have I read a first novel so perfectly executed from start to finish, so evocative of place and time. Helms is a master.” ―Kate Walbert, author of Our Kind and The Gardens of Kyoto
“Mesmerizing . . . Elegant prose and exacting insight illuminate Helms's tale of intrigue and deception.” ―Publishers Weekly (starred)
“What an elegant, wrenching storm of a novel! Beth Helms writes in crystalline, luminous prose that is reminiscent of the finest of James Salter's novels. Not since The Great Gatsby have I read a tragedy quite like this one.” ―Rick Bass, author of The Lives of Rocks
“Fantastic! . . . There's no silver lining in Helms's stories, no end of the rainbow. . . . A brave writer.” ―Los Angeles Times on American Wives
“Beautifully polished stories . . . splendid . . . readers will do well to watch for future publications by [Beth Helms].” ―The Dallas Morning News on American Wives
“The subtle and surprisingly sad representation of love will leave the reader astonished.” ―The Virginia Quarterly Review on American Wives
“American Wives is dangerous, politically perceptive, eminently skillful, and heralds a promising new voice.” ―Jayne Anne Phillips, author of MotherKind, on American Wives
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It is about an American family who has been transferred to Turkey by the U.S. Government. The father is an Ambassador, and they move frequently. He sometimes spends months away from his wife and daughter for business-and he is very secretive.
Canada is just your average twelve-year-old girl. Well, as average as she can be with moving frequently and learning new languages. She quickly makes a new friend and is soon learning her way around the city and observing her surroundings.
Grace struggles to find her place, as well as be a wife and mother. Trying to fit in with the other wives left behind by their traveling husbands, she soon spends her days drinking and socializing.
Before long, Grace and Canada seem to be growing apart while they struggle to find their place in this strange world. Disgusted with one another during the hot summer months, Grace and Canada move out beyond the local swimming pools and parties-into the city. But neither is quite prepared to maneuver on her own in Turkey, and they are soon adrift in a civilization they can't possibly grasp.
As the plot develops, the cultural differences between East and West begin to alter the storyline. With well-developed characters, a well-crafted plot, and a surprise ending, this story is an enjoyable read.
Beth Helms does a superb job with her first debut novel. I will be recommending this beautiful written novel to my friends.
Armchair Interview agrees.
Helms captures her foreign location with evocative accounts of local locations, customs, smells, and even personalities (the archetypal Turkish houseboy, for example). Dervishes also reveals the positive influence of Helms's experience as a short story writer. Like a good short story, Dervishes is precisely written with close attention to detail, leaving the impression that every experience or memory is an important part of the narrative whole. Although the narration is tightly controlled, Dervishes does not shy away from the ambiguity and messiness of human experience. In other words, the story is cleanly told but is far from clean. If any complaint can be made about this book, it's that Canada sometimes speaks with a voice well beyond her supposed 12 years. Highly recommended.
A military-intelligence family (CIA?) is relocated to Ankara, Turkey during the Cold War Era (the early 70's). Their story is told alternately from the first person perspective of the young adolescent daughter, and then in the third person by this girl's mother. Both mother and daughter experience the tension of living in very different culture during a tense time in history. Both do their respective best to assimilate and occupy themselves. They make relationships with people, both locals and ex-pats, who eventually embroil them is subtly subversive activities. Events unfold to reveal circumstances bigger than mother and daughter have any power over, and they separately find themselves embroiled in life-shifting consequences. Mother and daughter, not close to begin with, are driven even further apart emotionally.
While an appealing premise with lots of promise, ultimately this story doesn't work. The author valiantly attempts to "show" rather than "tell" the reader what is going on (as she should), but the reader isn't shown enough. The characters fall flat to the point of barely existing at all. They never flesh out; there is no resonating human experiential "truth" emerging from the story.
I was left with a great many questions at the book's conclusion, including the following: what happens to the characters, both major and minor, after their departure from Ankara? How are they changed? What, in the end, is the point of this story at all?