Gardens of Water

Gardens of Water
by Alan Drew
2008 / 352 pages

In 1999 in a small town near Istanbul there is a devastating earthquake which disrupts an already disrupted community.   Sinan, fundamentalist Muslim and Kurdish shop owner – a refugee from a rural area in the Kurdistani province where the fighting has been bad –  finds his teenage daughter in love with an American boy.  The boy’s mother died while saving the life of Sinan’s son Ismail.

Sinan wants to keep his Kurdish traditions and Muslim girls do not go around holding hands with any boys – much less American ones.   Sinan hates Americans because they helped the Turks in the Kurdish struggle for independence – for other reasons.

The writing is mediocre (imo) but the major theme of being lost is nicely done from the time Sinan loses track of his son in the opening pages,  to Sinan’s being in voluntary exile from his town, to being homeless after a major earthquake.  There’s also the lostness due to culture shock,  rural town to big city to earthquake camp to the “times” with iPods and American boys,  unemployment,  etc.   And his daughter Irem is lost without her father’s love and an attraction to Dylan.  Everyone is lost at this intersection between cultures.

But it’s a fast-paced, intense story based on some serious realities.  Although I likely won’t give it a top rating (due to the writing) I highly recommend it.

Historical notes:

The 1999 İzmit earthquake (also known as the Kocaeli or Gölcük earthquake) was a 7.6 magnitude earthquake that struck northwestern Turkey on August 17, 1999, at about 3:02am local time.[1] The event lasted for 37 seconds,[1] killing around 17,000 people[4] and leaving approximately half a million people homeless. Even though official sources consider casualties 17,000 people, non-official sources consider the casualties 35,000 people. The nearby city of Izmit was very badly damaged. From:

Kurds mostly live in southeastern and eastern parts of Anatolia. But large Kurdish populations can be found in western Turkey due to internal migration. According to Rüstem Erkan, Istanbul is the province with the largest Kurdish population in Turkey.[7]


Sinan is angry about –

The incorporation into Turkey of the Kurdish-inhabited regions of eastern Anatolia was opposed by many Kurds, and has resulted in a long-running separatist conflict in which thousands of lives have been lost. The region saw several major Kurdish rebellions, including the Koçkiri Rebellion of 1920 under the Ottomans, then successive insurrection under the Turkish state – including the 1924 Sheikh Said Rebellion, the Republic of Ararat in 1927, and the 1937 Dersim Rebellion. All were forcefully put down by the authorities. The region was declared a closed military area from which foreigners were banned between 1925 and 1965.[51][52][53]

In 1983, the Kurdish provinces were placed under martial law in response to the activities of the militant separatist and terrorist organization, Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).[54][55] A guerrilla war took place through the 1980s and 1990s in which much of the countryside was evacuated, thousands of Kurdish-populated villages were destroyed, and numerous extrajudicial summary executions were carried out by both sides.[56] More than 37,000 people were killed in the violence and hundreds of thousands more were forced to leave their homes.[57] Volatility in the region eased following the capture of PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan in 1999, and, with the encouragement of European Union, the adoption of tolerance policies toward Kurdish cultural activities by the Turkish state. After 2004, political violence increased, and the Turkish-Iraqi border region remains tense.[58]


A man named Ocalan has been imprisoned for PKK  nationalist activity – this was in 1999.  He’s mentioned several times in the book.

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