Rebel Land, By Christopher de Bellaigue

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The Independent Culture

Rebel Land opens with the perplexed author staring at himself in the mirror in eastern Turkey: not only has he aged since his days as a foreign correspondent, but his self-conception is at odds with his actual reflection. It is the disjuncture between his personal view of Turkey and the one which was held up to him in protestation after he wrote an article about the country's history, that is the genesis of this book: after his article was published, Christopher de Bellaigue was reprimanded as an apologist for the Turks, and thereafter set out to investigate the truth by hearing first-hand the stories of the "forgotten peoples" of the land. (Kurdish troubles in the east linger, while Armenians still talk of a genocide in the region, in 1915-17.)

The book exposes the complexities and compromises of narrative: De Bellaigue holds up many mirrors to many people, each reflecting different versions of the truth. He also ponders his own subjectivity as a one-time public schoolboy for whom "bucolic authoritarianism was cool".

What would compel someone to leave behind their home country at all, in order to live among strangers? Insights into the author's own wanderlust create the engaging emotional landscape, tracing its roots in childhood and on into adulthood, when a romance with a Turkish lady first led him to the area. (Although that ended, his love affair with the country continued.)

For one who, like myself, has travelled through eastern Turkey, whose wild, beautiful landscape lingers in the mind, this book is packed with fascinating factual nuggets. For those who have not ventured there, the author conjures vivid scenes. This book is far from perfect; an uneven cacophony. But it is precisely through honest consideration of the imperfection in life and in literature that the author finds his forte, shining valuable light on little-known terrains.

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