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Turkish Poetry and Literature

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The Stone Woman By Tariq Ali
1.       Roswitha
4132 posts
 16 Mar 2008 Sun 04:41 am

No, the woman wasn’t made of stone but the stone showed fading traces of a woman who probably was a pagan goddess. And it is to her that the novel’s characters disgorge their secrets – it must be her silence that made her a worthy listener.

The Stone Woman is Tariq Ali’s third book in the celebrated Islam Quintet. It is a lyrical portrait of the lives of the members of Iskander Pasha’s family as they live under the sky of a deceasing empire, the Ottoman Empire to be precise. Nilofer, the determined daughter, returns home after nine years of banishment as her father forgives her for running away with an ugly, skinny, Greek Dimitri. On returning she runs to the stone woman and deposits all her hidden pain in the stone. This is definitely the most interesting aspect of the novel. The readers gain an in-depth look on the emotions of the characters as each of them confesses to the stone woman. And the entire novel is unfolded mostly through these confessions and a few bits through Nilofer.

Pasha suffers a stroke and the family members are called for from different places. Along with the increasing number of characters, the stone woman fills to the brim with sinister secrets, violent emotions and conspiracy. Each character is furnished with complexities of relationships, heart-beating worries about their survival in the dying empire, narrow-mindedness towards each other, hopelessness and vice versa. In fact the existence of the stone woman is very crucial to the development of the novel as Tariq Ali’s mastery over creating profound characters shines through the confessions that are made and hence the name: The Stone Woman.

If you are a historical-political-fiction lover, this is the kind of book that will leave you with a lot to ponder over as Ali also attempts to show the growth of a generation that is uncompromising to the myths and half truths of the good old religious days. I am tempted to add that if Orhan Pamuk portrays the westernized modern days of the fallen empire, Tariq Ali shows how it was in its last days; if Orhan Pamuk talks about what the king’s men did to Humpty Dumpty, Tariq Ali narrates who was Humpty Dumpty and what he was doing sitting on the wall.

Well, in a few places in the novel you might lose patience when it becomes tedious or find it hyperbolic but then you must keep in mind that it is a historical fiction and above all, the lyrical nature of this novel arises from its dense use of intriguing metaphors to describe actions as well as emotions. Say for an example think about a palmyra rising between somebody’s legs!

Tariq Ali also takes much time in breaking the stereotypical image of lives under Islam. Most western readers expect the seductive images of harems, silently praying conservative masses and poignant tales of oppressed women in novels that have an Islamic core. But Ali shatters that expectation with the characters indulging in rational arguments about political systems, debates on various philosophies and questioning the odds of their own religion though they don’t miss any prayer. Even the female characters join these conversations with much enthusiasm and contradictorily to the usual scene, in her bedroom Nilofer is the person in charge.

There’s a lot that Tariq Ali wishes to tell his readers and I recommend you this book if you are tolerant even to ideas that are totally unacceptable to you because in The Stone Woman Tariq Ali reveals the vista of a Muslim family like never seen before.


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