Women who Blow on Knots by Ece Temelkuran (Parthian, £9.99)
THE TITLE of Ece Temelkuran’s latest novel refers to a line in the Koran, which warns of the evil of women who blow on knotted ropes to perform witchcraft.
But the writer — one of Turkey’s greatest — takes exception to that particular myth and turns it on its head to show female power and strength.
The main idea of the book, she says, “is that women blow life into things, into men, into children, into anything. They create life.”
Temelkuran is a courageous writer. In 2012 she was sacked from her post working for the Haberturk newspaper in Turkey after writing two articles on the killing of 34 villagers on the Iraqi border.
The incident, known as the Roboski massacre, sparked protests across the mainly Kurdish south-east and large demonstrations in Istanbul and Ankara.
Despite putting herself at risk by exposing injustices, Temelkuran refuses to be forced out of Turkey by the increasingly authoritarian President Erdogan.
And in this novel she delivers the perfect feminist riposte to Erdogan’s attempts to turn the supposedly secular republic of Turkey into an Islamic state, placing himself as its Sultan.
In Women who Blow on Knots, Temelkuran takes us on an incredible road trip with four women whose journey is set amid the backdrop of revolutions and the toppling of dictators.
Their encounters along the way challenge the orthodox narrative and perception of women in the Middle East and pose questions about the nature and politics of the so-called Arab spring.
In it, the beautiful Tunisian blogger, dancer and activist Amira joins Egyptian academic Maryam and the Turkish narrator as they are led by the mysterious and eccentric Madam Lilla on a journey that takes them from post-revolutionary Tunisia to Libya as Gadaffi falls and on to Egypt’s Tahrir Square before ending in Lebanon.
In exploring the politics of the Arab spring, Temelkuran gives an insight into the soul of her own country and the limitations and contradictions contained within the revolutionary movements that erupted during that tumultuous period.
There are obvious similarities between Temelkuran and the narrator of her novel, who has also been sacked as a journalist and heads for the Middle East. Like her main character, she says she will return there to write a book.
Each of the women has a secret and a motivation for the trip, revealed as the story unfolds, and Temelkuran beautifully explores the bonds that develop between the women, along with notions of sisterhood and motherhood in this well-crafted and at times amusing feminist tale.
The novel is a fascinating guide through turbulent times and political crises globally, with Temelkuran’s characters giving an insight into how people, and women in particular, relate to them and their impact on their own countries.