Heather's Reviews > Meander: East to West, Indirectly, Along a Turkish River

Meander by Jeremy Seal
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's review
Aug 31, 2012

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bookshelves: library-books, nonfiction
Read from August 24 to 31, 2012

I read about this book in an issue of Booklist that I picked up earlier this year: in a brief review, Gilbert Taylor calls this book, which is about Seal's canoe trip along the length of the Meander River in 2008, a "charmingly mordant, twisting travelogue," which was enough to make me want to pick it up from the library, despite not having heard of Seal and having no special interest in Turkey. The book is a stylistic mix: it's part first-person travelogue, with Seal telling about the trip he took and what he saw and how, in fact, the river didn't actually turn out to be navigable the whole way from source to sea, but it's also part history—partly as background to current-day Turkey, but partly for its own sake, because the Meander Valley was long a point where different civilizations met (and/or tried to conquer one another in various Eastern-heading or Western-heading land grabs). While I appreciated getting to understand a bit of the bigger historical picture, I found the contemporary scenes more interesting and better-written. Seal is really good at describing his experience of a place, whether he's talking about a bucolic country scene or a river that gets increasingly polluted as it travels westward from its rural source. His historical descriptions, on the other hand, can sometimes be a bit clunky.

I like that even when the dryness of the river forces Seal to make arrangements to have his canoe transported downstream, while he proceeds on foot, he still finds plenty of interest near the river. He explores ancient ruins and slightly less ancient ones, climbing a still-sturdy minaret next to an abandoned and crumbling mosque in a totally abandoned village, finding a remaining older block in the mostly-modern city of Aydın, and exploring an old hamam that later was used as a winery, and which seemed to have been left untouched since it closed in the mid 1970s. I like how Seal interweaves the descriptions of historic travellers with his own: when talking about Aydın, he quotes Richard Chandler, an antiquary who travelled to Turkey in 1765:
I wandered through Aydın, recalling the 'trees, lofty domes and minarees of mosques interspersed' that had once greeted Richard Chandler, a place of 'innumerable tame turtle-doves, sitting in the branches of trees, on the walls, and roofs of houses, cooing unceasingly'.
In this modern city of numbered streets there was not the least reminder, however, of the doves and embroidered trousers, the camel trains and the zeybeks' floral turbans. The streets were lined by apartment blocks painted in institutional shades. Lines of washing, children's tricycles, dead pot plants, rusting air-conditioning units, and the placarded details of lawyers', dentists' and gynaecologists' premises, showed among the flag-draped concrete of the balconies. (280-281)
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