Book review: Turquoise by Ayshe Talay-Ongan

“Set against transcendent love, unrelenting hatred and loyalties to friends and family, Turquoise is the story of an enduring and passionate love affair between Yasmin and Renan, which spans two decades, two marriages and three continents.”
Turquoise: A love story by Ayshe Talay-Ongan

This opening blurb was enough to pique my interest in the novel. That it is set in Turkey just added to my curiosity. Yasmin, the main protagonist of the novel, is an independent Turkish woman who refuses to follow tradition to find a husband and settle down to married life. The daughter of a Turkish diplomat, she’s been brought up in a liberal environment, sheltered from the ethnic differences between Turks and Armenians. After completing her degree in psychology and working in New York for a few years, she returns to Turkey, where she runs into her Armenian classmate Ani and her husband Renan. As soon as Yasmin locks eyes with Renan, she knows she has found her Love. But seeing as he is a married man, and is married to her one of her closest friends, all she can do is love him from afar. Though her love is reciprocated, neither of them will do anything to jeopardize Ani and Renan’s marriage.

Soon enough, political tensions in Turkey force Renan and Ani to immigrate to Sydney, and eventually, Yasmin also decides to move to San Francisco. It helps that her brother lives in California and that her father has been posted to Los Angeles as the Turkish Consul General. She soon finds a job and a house and settles down into her new life. Through her group of friends, she meets Curly, a Stanford professor, who she eventually marries even though she is still in love with Renan.

While in the US, her father is assassinated by Armenian terrorists, who were fighting to compel the Turkish government to acknowledge its responsibility for the Armenian genocide. That tragedy impacts her life in numerous ways, forcing her

“to make a choice between the passion that defines her and the reason that guides her. When so much is stacked against Yasmin and Renan, how can love possibly triumph?”

I quite liked Yasmin’s character. She’s independent, thoughtful and caring; a go-getter, unafraid to take unconventional decisions; someone who isn’t afraid to turn her professional dreams into reality. I could identify with her to an extent – the easy life (sure, there are struggles, but none really depressing or gloomy), her independence and ability to look at the bright side of things, to have faith that things will work out for her (like when she was looking to buy a house in San Francisco, she knew exactly the kind of house she wanted and was sure she would find it even on her limited budget – and find it she did), her engaging social life and the support of friends, and her many soulful, self-reflective quests.

She’s also believable, thinking things that a lot of us would do or think about in real life. Like when she thinks to herself, “Dear God, let him be jealous of me!” as her obsession for Renan deepens. I think that’s honest – I don’t see why a novel should take the high road.

Or her thoughts after they make love for the first time:

“My eighteen hours with him…skin on skin, breath in breath. Pristine and ordained. Our bodies feel like a Homecoming with one another, like a cherished poem remembered verse and line. A sense of deep familiarity, of knowing and awaiting for from a time immemorial.”

I thought that was beautiful, especially when you see how deeply connected they feel to one another.

That said, there were times when I also found myself getting irritated with her – if she loved Renan so much, why would she do nothing about it? Why did she settle for Curly? Why the continuous soul-searching and yearning? And then I would have to remind myself that the novel is set in the 1980s, when some of today’s more direct approaches probably wouldn’t work. Moreover, for all her liberal environment, she also belonged to a conventional society, so there were those limitations as well.

A few of the others characters, including Renan, aren’t very well-developed, but seeing as they play fleeting roles in the novel, it doesn’t make much of a difference. Since Yasmin has such a large circle of friends, developing all of them would be pointless in any case. Another character that is really well-developed is that of Yasmin’s mother. She’s a lady of strength and such a huge support system for Yasmin. In a lot of ways, she reminded me of my mum.
If you pick this one up hoping for a regular romance, you will be disappointed. The novel, which is told from Yasmin’s viewpoint, unfolds at a languid pace. Although Renan plays more of a cameo role in the book, her love for him permeates her entire life, and therefore the entire book.

This isn’t a page-turner; it isn’t a quick read or a book that you can skim through – it’s a long, leisurely account of Yasmin’s life, of her overarching love for Renan, and the many life choices she makes. It delves into the many facets of her marriage with Curly, who can only ever be second best to Renan; and her struggle to keep her love for Renan compartmentalized so that it wouldn’t hurt his marriage or hers. This isn’t just romance between a man and a woman either; it also delves into Yasmin’s relationship with her mother, with her husband Curly and Sam, the son from his previous marriage.

This book requires patience…and if you need to take the time to savor it…and remember that it’s set in the 1980s in a more conservative era and society, it’s totally worth your while. Yasmin is a well-developed and very real character – by the end of the novel, you feel like she’s a friend! The story unfolds slowly and languidly, and again, is very realistic.

If you enjoy literary fiction, this one’s for you.

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  1. I love reading your book reviews. You’re pretty thorough. I really like the premise of this book, and I may keep an eye out for this one the next time I need a new book to read!

  2. Thank you, Modern Gypsy, for an honest and insightful review of my novel. I would feel priviledged if you posted it Amazon and Goodreads, as well. I send you and your followers sincere thanks and best wishes.

  3. Pingback: Turquoise: Reviewer Roundup -

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