Picador, Paperback, 9780312426194, 320pp.
Publication Date: March 4, 2008
The richly textured, panoramic story of an American mother and daughter stuck in the expatriate community of Ankara, Turkey, in 1975--each of them trying to discover a life in the larger world, each in way over her head
When she is twelve years old, Canada moves with her mother and father to Ankara, Turkey, where her father has been stationed by the government. It is 1975--the Cold War is in full swing and tensions in the Middle East are escalating. But in Ankara's diplomatic community, the days are lazy and indulgent--one long cocktail party. While her father routinely disappears on official business, Canada and her mother, Grace, find themselves in the company of gossipy embassy wives and wealthy Turkish women, immersed in a routine of card games and afternoons at the baths. By the time summer comes, and the city's electricity shuts down from dawn to dusk, mother and daughter can no longer tolerate the insular society--or each other.
Alternating between their perspectives, "Dervishes" follows Canada and Grace as they set out into the larger city: Grace is drawn to the lover of her wealthy, manipulative Turkish friend; Canada competes with another girl for the attentions of an arrogant Turkish houseboy, one who knows all their mothers' secrets. Before long, both are in over their heads, and their transgressions threaten to strand them between the safe island of westerners and a strange city that guards its secrets fiercely.
Written with sensuousness and empathy, Beth Helms's debut is the story of a mother and daughter cut loose from their foundations, hungry for independence but dangerously naive.
Beth Helms is the author of the story collection American Wives, which won the 2003 Iowa Short Fiction Award. She spent her childhood in Iran, Iraq, Germany, and Turkey, and now lives in upstate New York. Dervishes is her first novel.
"Set against a backdrop of clashing cultures, Dervishes is a story of duplicity, betrayal, and the cost of keeping secrets. . . . A brilliant, moving, and utterly riveting debut. The end will leave you gasping."--Sara Gruen, author of Water for Elephants
"Not since Arundhati Roy's The God of Small Things have I read a first novel so perfectly executed from start to finish, so evocative of place and time. Helms is a master."--Kate Walbert, author of Our Kind and The Gardens of Kyoto
"Mesmerizing . . . Elegant prose and exacting insight illuminate Helms's tale of intrigue and deception."--Publishers Weekly (starred)
"What an elegant, wrenching storm of a novel! Beth Helms writes in crystalline, luminous prose that is reminiscent of the finest of James Salter's novels. Not since The Great Gatsby have I read a tragedy quite like this one."--Rick Bass, author of The Lives of Rocks
Praise for Beth Helms's story collection American Wives, winner of the Iowa Short Fiction Award
"Fantastic! . . . There's no silver lining in Helms's stories, no end of the rainbow. . . . A brave writer."--Los Angeles Times
"Beautifully polished stories . . . splendid . . . readers will do well to watch for future publications by [Beth Helms]."--The Dallas Morning News
"The subtle and surprisingly sad representation of love will leave the reader astonished."--The Virginia Quarterly Review
"American Wives is dangerous, politically perceptive, eminently skillful, and heralds a promising new voice."--Jayne Anne Phillips, author of MotherKind