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Harem: The World Behind the Veil

3.90  ·  Rating Details  ·  296 Ratings  ·  48 Reviews
"Harem: The World Behind the Veil [Paperback] by Croutier, Alev Lytle"
Paperback, 224 pages
Published February 1st 1991 by Abbeville Press (first published January 1st 1989)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 920)
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Alex ☣ Deranged KittyCat ☣
I've been meaning to read this book for quite some time now as the idea of the harem has always set my imagination on fire.

Harem: The World Behind the Veil sets out to tell us the truth about The Great Harem and harems in general from the time of the ottoman sultans to the present.

We are told that harem is not all about the sultan having orgies with the girls he owns. In fact, orgies are frowned upon in Islamic culture. The harem represent the actual quarters where the women live (wives, daugh
Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley.

If you go to most art museums in the Western world, you can find at least one, if not more, paintings that depict a European man’s view of the Eastern harem. While beautiful, these paintings will depict various women in various states of undress, usually lying around doing nothing besides looking pretty. Sometimes, there might be a painting that depicts a man alongside them, usually suggestive of post-coital glow or tied to 1001 Arabian Nights.

And that’s not even
Jan 27, 2012 Salma rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
تحديث: إضافة رابط المقال

تنقل أليف كروتييه في كتابها (عالم الحريم) القارئ إلى عوالم الحريم على زمن السلاطين العثمانيين السري و المحجوب عن الأعين بطريقة غرائبية تحبس الأنفاس...0
أستطيع أن أقول أن المؤلفة ذكية للغاية فهي تحسن قراءة العقلية الغربية و تعرف ما يسحرها و لذلك جاء كتابها كمقطوعة تأسر الأذن الغربية بحيث لا يمكنه مقاومتها...0
فكتابها يكرس صورة الشرق و الحجاب النمطية و التي تمتع الغربي و تجذب فضوله... كمهرج مبهرج يهرج ليجذب الجماهير..0
تماما كإعلانات وزارات السياحة: مغرية و ليست واقعية و لك
Sep 08, 2012 Dijaread rated it did not like it
I wish I could have enjoyed this book, as the subject matter is clearly interesting, but instead I was completely disappointed. It is appalling that any literate person could misquote the Holy Quran as many times as did this author. Personal thoughts on religion aside, there is no excuse for creating words and claiming them to be from Quranic text. This left me doubting any historical references offered in the book, and so I consider it a work of fiction. For this author to be one of the most tr ...more
Dana Stabenow
Lavishly illustrated, which led me to regard this book with some suspicion, but in the end lots of interesting information of harem life and history. (That the author has a family history that reaches back to the seraglio and that she has included a photo of her great-uncle with his odalisque is convincing in and of itself.)

In 1790, one sale document reads, you could buy seven women slaves for 1,000 to 2,000 kurush. One horse would cost 5,000 kurush. Kidnapped or sold by their parents, the trip
Oct 17, 2015 Christine rated it liked it
Diaphanous veils, steamy wading pools and chaise lounge all occupied by beautiful women just waiting to be called upon by their sultan. This is the image that most people conjure when the word “Harem” is uttered. This 25th Anniversary re-release of Ms. Croutier’s book quite honestly does not do much to dispel this fantasy.

Yes, Ms. Croutier describes some of the eroticism involved with living in a harem as well as the elaborate dress and grooming rituals ... the women always being "ready" for the
Apr 12, 2011 Sally906 rated it liked it
For almost 400 years, until 1909, the Grand Harem in Istanbul’s Topkapi Palace was home to thousands of women who often had been bought at slave markets for a price lower than a good horse. In fact the horse probably had a better life than the harem dwellers.
Author Alev Lytle Croutier relates the day-to-day experiences of the women who inhabited these chambers: what they ate, the clothes they wore, the games they played together, the passions, the treachery, and the opium-induced reveries in whi
Harem: The World Behind the Veil by Alev Lytle Croutier is a gratifying find among the many historical books written about the harem life of the Ottoman Empire. A harem was not a hidden, decadent enclave of the Sultan’s stunning concubines. It was simply where the women lived in the palace. All of the women lived there, including the Sultan’s own mother, known as the “Valide Sultan.” She was the most powerful figure in the empire after the Sultan himself. Croutier doesn’t exclusively cover the T ...more
Nicole Overmoyer
Jan 29, 2016 Nicole Overmoyer rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, women
I think everybody is a little bit fascinated by harems. Hollywood and the arts have made it so.

That's why I wanted to read Alev Lytle Croutier's HAREM: THE WORLD BEHIND THE VEIL. I wanted to know some truth about it and Croutier's work was advertised to tell me just that. Not being well-versed in Turkish history and Islam, the key points of the book, I have no choice but to take Croutier at her word until I find more information on the subject. And it is fairly easy to do since her own grandmoth
Shay VanZwoll
Jun 15, 2015 Shay VanZwoll rated it really liked it
Harem: The World Behind the Veil was originally published twenty-five years ago. It is now being republished with an introduction bringing in more current events in Turkey and the world, bringing to light the differences and similarities between now and a time where hstems were commonplace. As a family and cultural history, the details of the book are still relevant today, and it's interesting to see the author weave her own personal story into that of sultans and sultanas of the past, letting u ...more
Mar 23, 2010 Mitch rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
This is an excellent book.

Written by an intelligent woman with family ties to a harem, she offers personal observations along with various perspectives (Eastern, Western, last century, this century, male, female, etc...) to her compendium of historical fact.

Along with this, the book contains an appropriately opulent collection of fine art...and some not-so-fine art, but there is little of that. A mere annoyance, really.

There were many aspects to harems, and I learned much that I never knew.

It wa
Juli Rahel
Apr 11, 2016 Juli Rahel rated it really liked it
When I saw that in celebration of its 25th birthday Harem was available on Netgalley I knew I wanted to dip into it right away. One of the first books written on the topic, Croutier invites the reader into one of the world's most secretive and mysterious secrets: the harem. Combining personal childhood memory with intense research, I'm very glad I got my hands on Harem. Thanks to Abbeville Press and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

The idea of
Ms. Please Pass The Books
Jun 30, 2015 Ms. Please Pass The Books rated it really liked it
Harem: The World Behind the Veil is the 25th anniversary republishing of Alev Lytle Croutier's 1989 book by the same name. It delves into the history of the old harems (primarily in Turkey), their purpose, how and why they were formed, the women who lived in them, the eunuchs who ran them, and the sultans who ruled over it all. Complete with historical accounts, referenced paintings and drawings, as well as letters, documents, and all manner of the limited evidence—Harem is virtually an encyclop ...more
Aug 02, 2007 Kay rated it liked it
Shelves: turkey, nonfiction
Written from the perspective of those in the harem, this is a detailed if not particularly cohesive study of life inside a harem. As the cover might suggest, this book builds upon Western fantasies of harem life; in that sense it's quite entertaining, though I'm not sure if it's entirely accurate. The best aspect of the book by far is visual, with hundreds of wonderful illustrations. They certainly give a good sense of the luxuriousness of life in the seraglio (specifically, Topkapi Palace).
Dec 18, 2011 Tucker rated it really liked it
Shelves: finished, eunuch
The author grew up in Turkey; her grandmother had lived in a harem. The study of Turkish history is therefore informed by someone with personal knowledge of modern Turkish culture. The chapter on eunuchs gave me some new literary references. There's also an interesting chapter on how Westerners were fascinated by a romanticized ideal of the Turkish harem. The inclusion of many stunning photographs and paintings of women and eunuchs really makes the book.
Aug 08, 2015 Irongretta rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites, history
This book really surprised me. I had not a doubt about it containing a lot of new information. But I had not expected it turning out to be such an entertaining read.

The author did not aim at publishing a mere collection of dull facts. Croutier wrote this book about 25 years ago and – without the help of digital media – she had to rely on history witnesses’ reports as well as on related literature and historical documents. The outcome is an interesting and pleasant to read mix of actualities and
Sep 03, 2014 David rated it it was amazing
I find comfort, near spirituality, in a find from a great writer, Alev Croutier. Harem; The World Behind The Veil, is an extraordinary accomplishment, beautifully written, dynamically illustrated with some of the world's greatest art, and spirited with autobiographical text. Art can teach history like nothing else, illuminating the facets of experience in a single stroke of the brush; that, combined with the richness of text, Alev Croutier gives us a masterpiece. If curiosity begs the imaginatio ...more
Alexsia Wilson
Oct 01, 2015 Alexsia Wilson rated it really liked it
From Netgalley for a Review:

I will admit, straight up, that my favorite thing about this book is the art. It is loaded with old photos and paintings of a world both hidden and romanticized in the west. In fact that is the whole point of this book, taking a world that the west has often romanticized and showing how there are seeds of truth to the myths and legends of the opulence of the harem, but there is a lot of tragedy and sadness.

It is well written and an enjoyable read, even though the sub
Mar 10, 2016 Valeriya rated it really liked it
Harem: The World Behind the Veil is a well-known book translated to many languages since its publication in the beginning of 90's. In the latest edition of 2014 the author has updated preface, referring to topical world problems like terrorism, islamophobia and feminism in the Middle East.

This is understandable and logical. Today the attention towards Islam particularly increased, not only to religion as such, but also to the culture of the people practising it. To be honest, my image of harem f
c1989: A beautifully illustrated and researched book into the Harem world. As the author states, there is very little hard evidence left about the life in a harem (sounds awful, though) and the so called eye witness accounts can't be trusted in a 'here be dragons' sort of way. The UGA went absolutely mental with this book with any mention of the Koran being asterisked and bracketed. Recommended to the normal crew. "But the most heartbreaking picture was the faces of the women for whom no one cam ...more
Although it was fascinating to read this book, the lack of detailed information about the Harems was both tantalising and frustrating. The author did a great job of putting together a relatively coherent history, considering the almost complete lack of written records available to her. But I felt that the book lacked the narrative structure that holds so much 'creative non-fiction' together today. That is not to say that the book didn't work and I am fully cognisant of the limitations that the a ...more
Terence Clarke
Dec 08, 2015 Terence Clarke rated it it was amazing
A compendious look at the Turkish harem and what it really was. Croutier knows whereof she speaks, her grandmother and a great-aunt having been members of a harem themselves. The scholarship in this book is truly exhaustive, and so well organized and expressed that I could barely put it down. HAREM was originally published 25 years ago, and I first read it then. Reading this 25th anniversary edition, which contains much new information, confirmed my opinion that the book is a real find. Terence ...more
Jan 09, 2016 Gina rated it liked it
Shelves: first-reads, history
I received this book from NetGalley. It was an interesting history of harems and harem life. It also had a good history of the Ottoman empire and Turkish history. I especially enjoyed all the photos of artwork about harems and the discussion about portrayal of harems in literature and films. I wish the book had included footnotes or other notes with more historical facts and references. A nice overview and starter book on harems but not as in depth or complete as it could be.
May 01, 2016 Erika rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
A visually gorgeous and lush book full of wonderful images of harems both realistic and fantastical.

The authors unique access to the culture and history through her family provides a realistic and enthralling look at what life was really like in a harem as well as looking at the fantasy version as imagined by Westerners.
Her writing style is highly informative without being dry and academic and makes you feel as if you are a part of the world she is describing.
(not your)
Jun 22, 2015 (not your) rated it really liked it
I completely enjoyed this fascinating account of the origins and personal and political significances of the haram interspersed with detailed descriptions of daily life, costumes, and common days of the inhabitants. Croutier brought the era to life with stories of the most famous haram dwellers as well as personal accounts from her family. Very interesting to me were the accounts of common harams and the conclusions Croutiers draws from the (surprisingly) extensive effect the haram has had on W ...more
Diana Belchase
Sep 18, 2015 Diana Belchase rated it it was amazing
From eunuchs who recovered their male parts, to handkerchiefs color coded to relay messages, to poetry of desperation and despair, Croutier shows an intimate portrait of the Harem, weaving in iconic images and beautiful personal family stories. This book is for those who want to understand the history behind the harem as well as for those who want to peak into the souls of women. Perfection!
Mar 30, 2015 Katarina rated it it was amazing

This book is so interesting to read. I've always been interested in the topic, and as someone, who only ever read stories about harems, was immediately drawn to this book, since it's written by someone with first hand experience.

The book held up to what it promised. Extremely interesting insights into harem life, the history behind them, and the elements included. Absolutely fascinating.
Apr 14, 2015 Mandy rated it it was amazing
A beautifully illustrated and meticulously researched history of the harem. Thoroughly entertaining and informative, the book combines scholarship with an engaging style to make this an enjoyable and accessible read for the general reader as well as the academic. Highly recommended.
Fusun Dulger charles
Mar 04, 2014 Fusun Dulger charles rated it it was amazing
Very good description of the life on the Harems during the Ottoman Empire and lovely pictures.
A great book to have if you are interested in the Turkish History.
Jan 29, 2015 Christine rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
I didn't realize this was a historical non-fiction look at Harems. Even tho there is no storyline, the information is given in an entertaining and beautifully illustrated manner.
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Alev Croutier was born in Turkey. She has written and directed award-winning independent films and was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship (the first ever for a screenplay) for her work on Tell Me a Riddle. She is the author of the internationally acclaimed bestseller Harem: The World Behind the Veil. She divides her time between San Francisco and Paris.
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