Sunday, April 15, 2012

Books: Forty Thorns

Forty Thorns
By Judy Light Ayyildiz
Copyright 2011
335 pages

I am pleased to tell you about this novel by my friend, Judy Ayyildiz.

Forty Thorns is a fictionalized story of Adalet, a progressive woman who grew up in Turkey during a period of great change in that country's history. She lived through the fall fo the Ottoman Empire and the rise of the Turkish Republic, enduring a war and the changing face of a country.

The story is based on the life of Ayyildiz's mother-in-law. The author researched Turkish history in great detail and links Adalet's journey through life to the historic changes in Turkey.

The heroine was born in Thrace in 1901. The novel gets its name from an incident early in Adalet's life. She is called upon to perform a heroic act to save her sister's wedding. She must remove 40 evil thorns from a wedding gown cape so that the nuptials can move forward. While she is disposing of this evil, she catches the eye of her future husband.

In many ways this story is a coming-of-age novel, for Adalet grows up as the reader moves through the tale. This heroine has great courage and must face many hardships as she embraces the new republic and its changing ideals for women. She defies her parents to marry, and must live with the consequences of having a mind of her own at a time when such activities were frowned upon.

This is very much a women's book, and a feminist's one, at that. Americans will find it filled with information about a part of world history that they no little of, and will find themselves rethinking every stereotype of Middle Eastern culture that they believe they know.

For ultimately, Adalet is a strong woman, encompassing the roles of women of all nationalities. She is wife, mother, daughter - she gives and loves, feels pain, and finds her inner strength when she thinks she will not have hope again.

It is no mistake that "Adalet" also means "justice," in the woman's native language. For she seeks justice throughout the book, not only for herself, but for her country.

The book has received much acclaim in Turkey. Ayylidiz in interviews has found the reception less ardent in the United States but is hopeful that will turn around. She took 19 years to write the book; her mother-in-law asked her to write her life's story as she neared death. After hearing the tale, Ayylidiz felt compelled to move forward with the request.

At the end of the book, Adalet tells her sister that she wants a book written about her life. Her sister laughs and says:

"We've had small and average lives."

"Nations come from wombs like mine," Adalet answered, feeling again like the teacher. "Our hands keep fires while wars rage. We clean the burnt homes, help re-stack the rocks, gather the suffering ruin to our breasts and hide what we can."

Indeed, the story of women is a powerful one, and Ayylidiz has made certain that this woman's life will not be lost to the winds of time. Her history will endure, and the author should be thanked for this.


I have known Judy for many years. I interviewed her for an article in the late 1980s, and we have spent time together in writing groups and in arts and letters organizations. I am very pleased to recommend her work and I thank her for giving me the opportunity to read this fine work.

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