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Land of Secrets

A visitor to Turkey discovers the truth beneath the stories.

May 3, 2010, Vol. 15, No. 31 • By JAY WINTER
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He returns the gaze and the contempt of some of the more unsavory Turks located in this ethnic patchwork of a place, and seems more interested in probing the messy ethnic interface of this part of the world. He is never the superior outsider coming to look at “primitive” peoples, nor did he “go native,” as the French writer Pierre Loti did a century and more ago. His view, in sum, is that of a talented linguist and traveler, a populist conservative, attuned to the voices of those who have to pick up the body parts and corpses after the latest installment of intercommunal violence, or the latest case of torture or assassination on the orders of what he terms the secret state, the Turkish security apparatus. 

He speaks of admiring “feats of loyalty and self-sacrifice, poppies amid the refuse, and the pleasing symmetrical propensity of those who hate with passion, to love, disinterestedly, with passion also.” He tasted these passions, by getting to feel them ripple through this rough landscape, and has left us a fine, brooding portrait of a part of the world which has had more than its share of suffering.

Jay Winter, professor of history at Yale, is the author, most recently, of Capital Cities at War: Paris, London, Berlin 1914-1919. 

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