- Series: FSG Classics
- Paperback: 288 pages
- Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; Reprint edition (October 30, 2012)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0374533636
- ISBN-13: 978-0374533632
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 8.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars See all reviews (51 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #280,150 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Towers of Trebizond: A Novel (FSG Classics) Paperback – October 30, 2012
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"Macaulay’s meticulous, understated storytelling traces the hairline crack between laughter and tears, finds grand universals in ordinary foibles, and speaks, without blush or wink, of sin and repentance."―Paste Magazine
"A small miracle of a novel."―Salon
"It is an extraordinary novel, being not just a witty and lyrically written account of the journey of a heart and soul, but also, a beguiling history lesson, a masterclass in acute social observation, and a remarkable polemic on female emancipation and religious sectarianism."―The Independent
About the Author
Dame Rose Macaulay, one of the most popular writers and personalities in England from the 1920s until her death in 1958, was a friend to the likes of E. M. Forster and Virginia Woolf. She was the author of more than thirty-five books; Towers of Trebizond is her masterpiece.
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Top Customer Reviews
Recently, I received as gifts both Rose Macaulay’s 1956 novel: The Towers of Trebizond about a trip on camel back through Turkey and also Jesse Zink’s 2014: Backpacking through the Anglican Communion. With both books set in the context of “The Worldwide Anglican Communion”, I guessed they might also be “same-same but different” so I thought to read them simultaneously.
As a life-long American Episcopalian, for me “The Worldwide Anglican Communion” exists in mythic, fairy lands somewhere east of C.S. Lewis’s “Narnia” and west of the (original, not Disney!) A.A. Milne’s Pooh books. For all I know (or care) Milne may have been a stout atheist, it doesn’t much matter… it just seems to me that a chorus of “I Sing a Song of the Saints of God” would be a good way to finish any reading aloud of a chapter in Winnie-the-Pooh or … You know, “you can meet them in school, or in lanes, or at sea, in church or in trains, or in shops or at tea…”
About a third of the way through both books, I decided that “Trebizond” was written by Winnie the Pooh as an adult, while “Backpacking” was by an adult Christopher Robin. I finished “Backpacking” hopeful that a third book in the set will be written someday, authored by some Kanga or Rabbit or Tigger, just now being baptized in Nigeria or the South Sudan or maybe China.
Macaulay’s “Trebizond” starts as a light-hearted journey by Laurie and her aunt Dot, with Dot’s nameless and insane white camel and with the aptly named divine, “Father Chantry-Pigg”. The narrator, Laurie, is as winsome and accessible as Winnie-the-Pooh. The English trio travel by ship from England, up the Aegean coast of Turkey, to Istanbul and then by Black Sea steamer to the eastern city of Trebizond. They are off on a mission to evangelize Turkey, as aunt Dot is of the opinion that Turkish women would be better served by her unveiled Anglican faith, as a replacement to their veiled Islam. Aunt Dot has many opinions….
Same-same but different. Zink’s book is serious, but like Macauley’s narrator, Zink is fair and open minded. He travels to individual Anglican churches set around the world, from China to South America; but mostly in Africa: like South Africa, South Sudan, Nigeria and Uganda. He reports on their buildings, their people, their challenges and their joys. The differences between the individual congregations are striking: he debunks the American/European stereotype of a monolithic “African Church”. It’s also clear that each church congregation is set in its country and culture: from the prosperity theology he sees in the worship of Anglicans in booming chaotic Nigeria to the subsistence survival focus of theology students at Bishop Gwynne College in Juba, South Sudan.
Same-same but different. On the way to Trebizond, Laurie’s narrative “voice”, really an impressive creation, is introduced. The first stages of the journey are charmingly recounted, but it seemed to be moving along paths maybe a bit too “precious”, through the same country covered by Virginia Hudson’s thin, winsome but oh-too-twee “O Ye Jigs & Juleps”, beloved of my mother (also a life-long Episcopalian). Of course the 1950s setting of “Trebizond” was a different time for Anglicans, as it was for most all “Western” institutions, and but still I worried that with “Trebizond” I had committed to a novel length slog, rather like having second thoughts after setting off on a 10 day bus tour through Luxemburg; just too much of a so-so thing.
Not too worry. In Trebizond, the story takes conjurer’s potion and crystallizes into Laurie’s personal journey. Her travels home see her back through Turkey, Syria, Jordan, the new-then state of Israel (those were the days, to travel by camel from Syria to Haifa!), and back home to England. Yes, there is a love story, as I said, this is Winnie-the-Pooh as an adult.
This was one of Macaulay’s last works and her descriptions of Turkish scenery and Middle Eastern settings are wonderful… I love travelogues and it’s rare for a work of fiction to be so satisfactory as a travelogue. While, as fiction, her characters are not as rich as Zink’s, the book’s sub-text: the unique nature of an individual’s spiritual journey, is a strong harmonic counterpoint to “Backpacking”’s subtext: the unique setting of each congregation’s path. Both sub-texts settle comfortably in the latitudinarian folds of “The Worldwide Anglican Communion”.
Same-same but different. As a travel writer, Zink is at his best describing people…. They come alive and the conversations seem as real as the breakfast table talks at my house. He is such an enthusiastic journeyer and trekker down off-the-beaten paths that I can only wish his skills at conjuring up the images to share with “mind’s eye travelers” will improve… Just thinking of the places he’s taken his readers through makes me want to sign up for a return journey-read after he completes a year at, say, “The Iowa Writers Workshop”. (His bona fides as a divine having already been stamped at Yale Divinity School).
Aside from people he chats up on visits to churches in England, it seems that in his conversations in the “Third World”, most wanted to see Zink’s American Episcopal Church through their reaction to its modern, “Western” acceptance of diverse sexual orientation, especially as crystallized for the Africans in the ordination of Gene Robinson, an openly gay man, as bishop of New Hampshire. “Is he bishop only for gays?” As Christopher Robin would, Zink presents these conversations without cringing and without condescension. The book’s strongest point is his steering these discussions towards “what we share in common as Anglican Christians”; navigation even more difficult than the four-wheel-drive slides through muddy tracks along back roads in South Sudan, exchanges charged with risky potential that seemed as explosive as the mines, armed men and automatic weapons sown deeply in the soil of that just-born country..
The end of Zink’s travels is to make his case: for each individual church congregation he’s visited, with its own setting, with its own strengths and challenges, the local communities engendered by the Anglican tradition can provide a path towards a Christ-redeemed, Spirit-enlightened, God-illuminated world.
Same-same but different.
I picked up this book not expecting what I got. It was compulsively readable from the first page, and I read it straight through. And even though I'm far from a religious person, or even a believer, I found it a lot to respond to. I'd like to read it again -- which is always one test of a good book -- with all I know and guessed in mind.
In other reviews I was surprised to see people referring to Laurie as 'she.' I had always assumed from the start that Laurie was a man, and that Vere (which I pronounced in my head as 'Vera' - a very British name) was a woman. So, the end of the book was rather a shock, but ever so much more moving. I thought back on how careful Macauley was with pronouns, so, if I was mistaken about Laurie's gender, others could have been confused about Vere's.
A complex book of philosophy, religion, history and travel it was never dull. Though it was described in the squibbs on the back cover as funny I really didn't see it that way. There was humor, but it was always wry and a bit sardonic. The theme that seemed the strongest thread through the story is identity. Who are we? Who do others think we are? Are we all of us spies pretending to be someone else? Ultimately to me it is a sad book with glimmers of hope shining through like those towers of Trebizond in Laurie's opium dream.
Well written which is something to be cherished.
Read it! and I sincerely trust you will have as much fun as I did.