Dervishes: Book summary and reviews of Dervishes by Beth Helms

Dervishes

by Beth Helms

Dervishes
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  • Published in USA  Mar 2008
    320 pages
    Genre: Novels

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About this book

Book Summary

Paperback original. The richly textured, panoramic story of an American mother and daughter stuck in the expatriate community of Ankara, Turkey, in 1975--each of them trying to discover a life in the larger world, each in way over her head.

Grace and Canada are the wife and twelve-year-old daughter of an American diplomat stationed in Ankara. While he disappears for long stretches, mother and daughter are forced into a fiercely gossipy, isolated community of Western ladies and wealthy Turks. Fed up with each other during the hot summer months, when the electricity shuts down throughout the city from dusk to dawn, each ventures out beyond the embassy swimming pools and cocktail parties into Ankara. But neither is quite equipped to navigate on her own in Turkey, and they are soon lost in a society they can't possibly comprehend. Their transgressions threaten to strand them between the safe island of expatriates and a city still hostile to the presence of foreigners.

Dervishes is a psychologically complex, richly atmospheric story of a mother and daughter cut loose from their foundations, hungry for experience but dangerously naïve.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"What an elegant, wrenching storm of a novel! Beth Helms writes in crystalline, luminous prose that is reminiscent of the finest of James Salter's novels. Not since The Great Gatsby have I read a tragedy quite like this one." - Rick Bass, author of The Lives of Rocks.

"Starred Review. Elegant prose and exacting insight illuminate Helms's tale of intrigue and deception." - Publishers Weekly.

"The novel is awkwardly paced, too, with a slow start and a rushed ending. But these shortcomings are made up for by what the story reveals about the subculture of embassy wives, whose easy camaraderie can quickly turn cutthroat. Recommended for all libraries." - Library Journal.

"Set against a backdrop of clashing cultures, Dervishes is a story of duplicity, betrayal, and the cost of keeping secrets. . . . A brilliant, moving, and utterly riveting debut. The end will leave you gasping." - Sara Gruen, author of Water for Elephants.

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Reader Reviews

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Louise

Dervishes
Like the Dervishes, this novel left my head spinning. Having toured through Turkey, I could almost taste the sights and sounds of Istanbul and Ankara. This alone would make the time spent reading worthwhile. At its conclusion I found myself ordering a box of Turkish Delight aka Lokum.

Though all the characters are evil, and not totally believable, I couldn't put the book down. What a fun read.

Ellen

Dervishes
Beth Helms has written an excellent first novel and I look forward to reading her story collection.

This was an absolutely beautifully written book - descriptive, mysterious and magical. From the first few pages I was immediately drawn to the story of Canada and her mother and father. The author writes in an almost poetic form and I truly felt as though I knew this family as well as the places they lived.

I loved this book - it was entertaining yet also very personal - a story we can all relate to on many levels. I highly recommend this book.

Karla

Dervishes
An American officer and his family are transferred to Turkey by the US government. The officer leaves on long secret missions while wife and daughter get involved in situations they know nothing about. Their behavior is too noticeable to ignore. They are warned but do not heed. The surprising ending leaves the reader with many unanswered questions.

Linda

Dervishes - Review
I thoroughly enjoyed this engrossing story of a mother and daughter trying to make sense of their relationships to each other while also trying to fit into the claustrophobic world created by a handful of other expatriates living in Ankara, Turkey. While the father disappears for months at a time on business, Canada, a young girl of twelve, learns to navigate the landscape of the city, broadening and moving away from the rarefied atmosphere of the adults who spend their time socializing, having affairs and drinking too much. While Canada strains to move away and blend into the Turkish landscape, Grace, her mother, struggles to ingratiate herself into the inner circle of wives left behind by their traveling husbands.

Told from both the mother and daughter's point of view, one gets a sense of how both are floundering to find their own place in this exotic world while growing apart from each other. As the plot develops, the cultural differences between East and West begin to alter the storyline and one can feel the characters being propelled to a tragic conclusion. Well developed female characters who are flawed yet deserving of sympathy in their ignorance and an interesting plot line made this novel well worth reading. I would definitely recommend this book.

Betty

A Year in Ankara
This book is excellent. The author doesn't explain everything that happens at once, but gives clues that accumulate until the reader understands what is going on. She uses a lot of description to bring to life the experiences of an American family living in the Middle East in the 1970s. Anyone who read and liked "The Kite Runner" by Khaled Hosseini or "Reading Lolita in Tehran" by Azar Nafisi should enjoy this novel.

A minor criticism: If there were any dervishes (members of Muslim religious orders who take a vow of poverty) in the book, I missed them.

Highly recommended.

Kathleen

Great Read for Book Clubs
I strongly recommend this book for book clubs or for people who like to struggle with untidy issues. Dervishes is not a tidy book. On the contrary, it raises more questions than it answers, and is disturbing on many levels. The constantly shifting voice can be confusing, but emphasizes how everyday events can be interpreted quite differently. Seemingly trivial decisions result in lives that are irrevocably changed. The author shows great empathy for characters who aren't necessarily likable, but are people we can relate to all too well. I was expecting a story about a mother-daughter relationship set in Turkey, but the author delivered far more.

...11 more reader reviews

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More Information

More Information

Beth Helms is the author of the story collection American Wives, which won the 2003 Iowa Short Fiction Award. She spent her childhood in Iran, Iraq, Germany, and Turkey, and now lives in Pond Ridge, New York. Dervishes is her first novel.

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