Byron and the beauty by Muharem Badzdulj
Original title – Đaur i Zulejha
Translator – John R cox
I have briefly met Muharem a couple of years ago when I was out for the day with his english publisher Susan and we bumped into him before the first Balkan day at the british library. It wasn’t till I sat to write this review I was remind of the fact I had met him briefly . He lives in Belgrade and has had a number of small piece translated before one was included in the best European fiction 2012. Muharem himself is a professor of English and AMerican Lit and has translated piece from Auster, Rushdie and Larkin to name a few. I choose this as we see Turkey in the opening game the other day of Euro 2016 play a fellow Balkan team Croatia so it gave me chance to shoehorn this book in as Croatia and turkey have been two of my favourite teams to watch over the last few decades as both fans have such passion and this is seen on the pitch.
Isak pointed towards the mountains. “North of here, and to the west ” He said : “A stern and beautiful land. I spent my youth there it is a perfect land, as a Turk once told me, wherever you dig, up comes potable water, and wherever a seed falls, there a tree will sprout. Nowhere is the water any sweeter, or the shade any more beautiful, my lord. This place you were speaking of, my lord , this sintra, seems to me to be complete sevdah, but Bosnia is at once Sevdah and Dert.
Isak tells byron what Bosnia is like in the most poetic way as Bosnia is considered the poetic heart of the balkans .
It’s interesting that Muharem has translated poetry and choose a poet as a lead figure in this book. The figure in this book is Lord Byron the mad bad boy of romantic poetry. We meet him here as we spend two weeks with him as he waits in the Balkans Byron his group of people and a man called Isak whom is the interpreter. Then there is the third character in the story a Bosnian beauty called Zuleiha who is part of the Turkish royal Harem. At one point Isak said her beauty is that much it can’t be described so we have an English man in love with an eastern beauty that he can’t have .They can’t even say he name after she married. We see Byron trying to work out how eastern culture works through his western eyes.
“No my lord” Isak replied, “her name has not been utter since the wedding. All those who’d been saying she would definitely appear re now as silent as can be. Such a story, however cannot be invented. She is here somewhere my lord; I can feel it; and I fear that we Iliad will miss her, that she will come to Yannina, and leave again, while I’m away
Isak talks about Zuleiha and her wedding and after .
Now another connection the mad bad boy of romantic poetry , grew up 20 miles from where I live in his family home of Newstead abbey ( I went a few years ago and Byron had some mad family members one who made the staff of the estate take part in naval battle in small ships with real cannons on the lake ) I knew I had read something similar by Byron and I rooted out my battered copy of Bryon’s poems that I have had for years .
I found that after Childe Harold he had written a poem or turkish tale in fragments called The Giaour a story with three character a woman from the Harem an Infidel (also the name given to Byron in the Bosnian edition ) as she is thrown to the sea after being involved with the infidel.But strangely the poem is also one of the first mentions of Vampires and given that most vampire storys start in the east is this maybe the start of it given that it is explained to Byron about the Bosnian Dert and Sevdah Black bile and blood This book is a modern take on how Byron looked at the east back then how we in the west held eastern culture in such mystery at the time. It is also a tale of love that won’t happen a great lover that misses out on getting the great beauty maybe for the first time . There is no actual record of this two weeks but Byron spent time in-between turkey Albania and the Balkans in 1809 to 1811 on his grand tour when he fell in love with not just the Balkans but also the old Levant region of south eastern europe and north africa.
Have you a favourite book set in turkey ?