Bliss A Novel

O. Z. Livaneli

St. Martin's Griffin



Trade Paperback

304 Pages



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Meryem, a fifteen-year-old girl, lives in a rural village on the shores of Lake Van in Eastern Turkey. Her simple life changes dramatically after her uncle, a sheikh in a dervish order, rapes her. She is considered an outcast for shaming her family. When she is locked in a shed and left alone for days, she comes to the painful realization that her family expects her to hang herself with a length of rope left on the dirt floor. But she is defiant.

As tradition still has it, a judgment must be made in the name of honor. Meryem is told she is to be taken to Istanbul, a shining city she envisions being just over the nearest mountain. Many girls from her village have "gone to Istanbul," and she assumes it must be a wonderful place since not one has returned. Those girls, however, have actually been the victims of "honor-killings."

Cemal, Meryem's cousin, a commando in the army, has been fighting in the mountains against the rebels. On his return home, he is welcomed as a hero though he has been severely traumatized by his war experiences. His father, who had violated Meryem, charges Cemal with the task of executing his cousin's punishment. As he and Meryem begin their journey, they proceed through the marketplace where the townspeople have gathered, some weeping and others mocking her.

In Istanbul, a Harvard-educated professor named Irfan lives an elite existence. He has published many books, hosts a radio show, and seems to enjoy success and jet-set freedom, but then rebels against the routine of his soulless life, deciding to leave his wealthy wife and Istanbul. Irfan charters a boat to sail the Aegean, and by coincidence, his path crosses with that of Meryem and Cemal. They all embark on a journey together that fills their hearts with hope and sets them free.

Bliss juxtaposes the traditional and modern, drawing attention to human rights violations against women in the Middle East.


Praise for Bliss

"Livaneli is an essential force in Turkey's musical, cultural and political scene."—Orhan Pamuk, author of the national bestseller, Snow

"A brutal rape and the subsequent death sentence on the defiled girl draws one into the disparate worlds of traditional and modern Turkey. This exciting, sensitively written novel educates and illuminates not only the plight of women but also a society in conflict."—Barbara Goldsmith, Author and Historian

"Livaneli's novel paints a picture of contemporary Turkey and its archaic culture and shows how torn this country and its people are . . . Livaneli reveals the beauty and violence of this country, as well as how much collective obedience, respect and honor mold people and keep them from their happiness. This novel is smart, honest, and a singular occurrence in Turkish literature. It allows us to understand Turkey and its people a little better and sympathize with them."—Necla Kelek, German-Turkish sociologist and author of the bestsellers The Foreign Brides and The Lost Sons

"Lyrical, poetic, and magical . . . Livaneli is an extraordinary writer and a master of language, who describes in this book an incredibly violent but at the same time magical, almost surreal world. I like the way he depicts the real and the unknown life of the simple people who live deep within the East with their own age-old codes of life…they show their own ‘truth' about life and death, their own views about right and wrong . . . You will read this book in one breath, without a pause."—Mikis Theodorakis, composer of Zorba the Greek

"A writer, composer, and elected member of the Turkish parliament, Livaneli offers readers a fascinating look at the diversity of Turkey today in his American debut. The story is told from the perspective of three main characters. Cemal serves in Turkey's army, fighting the Kurds, though he hails from a village where Turks and Kurds have lived in peace for generations, often intermarrying. His younger cousin Meryam is content with the changeless village life until she is raped at 15 by Cemal's father. Irfan is a Harvard-educated professor and frequent television talking head who with his wealthy wife spends his evenings at the hottest restaurants and clubs. When Cemal returns from his service, he is charged with ‘taking Meryam to Istanbul'—a euphemism for murdering Meryam somewhere so that the crime is not traced back to the family. In the meantime, Irfan longs for the simple life he dreamed of as a boy and heads to sea in a rented boat. Eventually, the three characters meet, a significant event that affects them all. Highly recommended."—Debbie Boggenshutz, Cincinnati State Technical & Community College Library, Library Journal

"Left in the barn to hang herself as a consequence of her uncle raping her, 15-year-old Meryem defies local tradition and refuses to do it. Her cousin Cemal, recently a soldier in the army, who grew up with her in a tiny village in eastern Turkey, is sent to take her to Istanbul and is told to kill her on the way. On the train, Meryem's eyes are opened to city women who wear modern-day dress and speak and eat in front of men. Cemal cannot kill her, and after a short stay with his brother in Istanbul, he goes to a war buddy who gives them a place of temporary refuge, a fish farm on a cove in western Turkey. Here they meet a professor who has run away from his privileged life in Istanbul and is living on a large sailboat. He invites the two cousins to join him as his crew and companions. The dynamics created by this union give these three characters a new direction in which to take their lives. Teens will be drawn to the plight of a girl who has been raped and is then treated as the perpetrator of the crime. Livaneli shows village life and modern city life as two separate realities that coexist in Turkey today. Students interested in human rights and global studies will also appreciate this novel."—School Library Journal

"Turkey's wildly disparate and clashing cultures, from isolated Muslim fundamentalism to jaded secularism, collide in this romantic yet clear-eyed translation from a noted Turkish composer and politician, now a member of that country's Parliament. Her village family ostracizes teenage Meryem after she is raped. When her older cousin Cemal returns from fighting in the Turkish army against the Kurds, his father, the family's religious leader (and Meryem's secret rapist), orders him to take Meryem to Istanbul and make her ‘disappear,' the typical fate of defiled village girls. Meryem innocently enjoys the journey to Istanbul, unaware of Cemal's orders. To his mortification, Cemal cannot bring himself to kill Meryem. His army buddy Selahattin, a devout Muslim and genuinely good man, shows Cemal that the Koran can be interpreted as promoting love and peace, not vengeance. Meanwhile, Irfan, a professor with a TV show and a rich wife, escapes the meaningless of his life in Istanbul by sailing the Aegean Sea in an old boat. He hires Meryem and Cemal as his crew and introduces them to modern ways. Drawn to her budding intelligence, Irfan teaches Meryem to read. As Meryem blossoms, Cemal grows resentful, yet he, too, loses his desire to return to his father's village. Tensions rise in an idyllic seaside village where they stay with a former ambassador who has withdrawn to his orange orchard to escape the ugliness he has witnessed in the world. Meryem falls in with a kind family who run a restaurant. Cemal and Irfan confront each other with truths neither wants to face. Irfan sails away after giving Meryem all his money. She goes to the restaurant full of hope, leaving Cemal to find his own way.Livaneli deftly folds his philosophical and political questioning into the psychology of his characters. Eye-opening and deeply moving-essential for anyone looking for decency in the world today."—Kirkus Reviews

"The paths of three characters converge to illustrate . . . the conflicts of contemporary Turkey. Raped by her uncle, the sheikh, 15-year-old villager Meryem has shamed her family. To save the family name, Cemal, the sheikh's son, a soldier home from his tour fighting Kurds in the Gabar Mountains, is ordered by his father to take Meryem to Istanbul and to murder her. When Cemal and Meryem reach Istanbul, they are shocked by the cosmopolitan city, full of women wearing low-cut blouses and children who disobey their parents. Cemal falters at the moment of decision and, instead of murdering Meryem, travels with her to the seaside, where they encounter Irfan, a successful Istanbul professor who, plagued by insomnia and anxiety, has fled his cushy life to set sail in the Aegean Sea. Irfan offers them jobs on his boat and forges a tenuous mentorship with Meryem, but Cemal, whose psychological torment is richly captured early in the book, is soon reduced to a glowering presence. Livaneli, a former exile who was elected to Turkey's Parliament in 2002, takes great pains to reveal his country's complex culture."—Publishers Weekly

Reviews from Goodreads



  • O. Z. Livaneli

  • O.Z. Livaneli is one of Turkey's most prominent and popular authors as well as an accomplished musician and composer, whose works have been recorded by the London Symphony Orchestra. He was held under military detention during the coup of March 12, 1971 and lived in exile for eight years. He studied music in Stockholm, then lived in Paris and Athens, returning to Turkey in 1984. He was one of the founders of the Turkish-Kurdish Peace Movement and the initiator of the Campaign Against Violence in Turkey, and he has made significant contributions to the Greek-Turkish Friendship Committee. He was elected a Member of Parliament in 2002.

  • O. Z. Livaneli Adil Gu¨ltekin




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