By Jeremy Seal
“Meander” is a travel guidebook that has everything –historical background, colorful local folk, cultural perspective, captivating description, beautiful writing – and yet lacks certain expected elements; it contains no hotel rates, no shopping guides, no airline schedules, and no tips for tourists. It is a journey without frills down the Meander River in Turkey from its beginnings as an underwater spring in central Turkey to its mouth on the Aegean Sea. The Meander is so winding that it looks like a squiggle on the map; hence,the river’s name denotes wandering, drifting and digression. Jeremy Seal, the main character, travels alone on foot or by inflatable red canoe, relying for lodging on whatever accommodations are available in the villages along the river. Among those he encounters are the suspicious ironmonger who nearly refuses to sell him a trowel out of fear that he will loot the country of its archeological treasures, Mehmet, author of a local history and bored defense lawyer eager to offer advice and direction, Turgay, a parsley nibbling diabetic who generously gives him a going away gift of baklava, Ahmet, an agricultural consultant who tells him of struggles between the secularists and the Islamists, and the waiter who served him dinner, helping himself to some of it as he did, not out of boorishness, but as a deliberate insult.
Jeremy Seal’s humility and humor allow him to be a keen and kind observer of the people he meets and the environment they inhabit. His open intelligence guides him through the unfamiliar; his romantic side fills a jar with water at the beginning of the trip to be carried along and poured into the Aegean at the end. Seal’s journey down the Meander is an exploration of the essence of Turkey itself, of a modern country emerging out of a very old one. Chapter Notes and the Bibliography provide direction for those readers who want to know more.
This review appeared in Al Jadid, Vol. 17, no. 65
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