Silk Armor by Claire Sydenham



Veiled, unveiled, I am woman.

About Silk Armor by Claire Sydenham: Her name is Didem, a young Turkish university student. Though she has left her veil behind in the provincial village she grew up in, she is still watched over closely by her father and certain friends. But when she meets Victor, an American instructor at the university, and they fall in love, Didem is propelled into an entirely new and dangerous future. The obstacles and threats they face lead Didem and Victor into plans of escape, an escape Didem must keep secret.

Silk Armor follows her adventure through her battles with her community, her culture, her traditions and conscience, leading to her realization that though these battles may be lost her war can still be won.

My two cents

Claire Sydenham (and the author of this book), is a university teacher in Turkey. One of her students, Didem, is drawn to Claire's fellow teacher, Victor. Claire unwittingly finds herself as a convenient cover for Didem's disapproving father. As Didem and Victor carefully lay out their plans to start a life together in America, we become privy to the internal struggles of a young woman seeking her voice and her place in a world, a struggle borne in a lifetime and expectations of an evolving Muslim faith in Turkey.

***

This one blindsided me. Based on the synopsis, I thought I was in for a cross-cultural romance. But this is so much better ... a book with depth, with sensitive and non-judgmental characterizations, and an insightful look into women's self-identity behind (or without) the veil.

The romance is merely a springboard from which the author juxtaposed two young womenan unveiled Didem and the veiled Sevgiwho both have their self-identity so inextricably defined, shaped, even decided upon by this "silk armor," the veil. The veil has been the subject of much discussion  and controversy across the world; a heavily laden subject, with political and cultural undertones.

There are a few striking images of the veil that have stayed with me. One is of Didem's disgust when encountering heavily black veiled women she describes as "cockroaches" because she thinks the veils only serve to highlight what a woman's role is: to procreate. Another is of Claire's disappointment at Sevgi's lukewarm reaction to her gift of a beautiful forest green silk veil picked to match the colour of Sevgi's coat, and the ensuing internal dialogue of "it's not fashion, Claire."

How does this innocuous looking piece of cloth generate such deep-seated emotions and become such a hot button for heated arguments?
**
Let's flip to the other side of the romance, the other side of the tale as told by an alien Victor. As someone looking from the outside in, someone devoid of the context of culture and religion, Victor is naturally befuddled by Didem's actions, her motivations, her decisions.

Just like Victor, we revisit the childhoods of Didem and Sevgi and gain a better understanding of the familial expectations and obligations they face. We see how much more complicated it is to find love and self within, and moreso, outside of a traditional and familiar culture.

This is a complex and layered story. As we zigzag and meander dizzyingly into the past, the present, and back, we are pulled into a tale that is sad, tragic yet strangely illuminating.
***
Uh-oh: This is beautifully written and begs for a better cover... how I wished that the cover captured more the essence of the struggle, the tragedy, and the cultural richness of the tale.

Verdict: This is a tragedy and an illumination of self-identity tied in to the symbol of the veil. I highly recommend this for those who enjoy multicultural stories and those who are looking for a better understanding of the pressures modern women face within traditional cultures. This is such a satisfying read and makes my favourites for the year.

Interesting quote:
Victor was a foreigner offering her a wide and fascinating world of adventures; Mustafa was offering housework.

And yet I understood, and that's why she continued speaking with him throughout the winter. Even as she protested his plan I think she felt the rudimentary wisdom of it, the simple appeal of spending your life with someone you grew up with, who formed , as you formed, in the shape you formed [..] The needs of the heart are met in simple ways or not at all. - p. 227

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Thank you, Paul!

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2 comments

  1. This looks really really good. I'm definitely adding it to my TBR pile. I hate it when covers don't live up to their books.

    Thanks for linking up with Spread the Love!

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    Replies
    1. I hope you do get to read this -- I wish it would get a bit more exposure as the subject matter is definitely worth discussion. Thanks for hosting, as always, April :)

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© guiltless readingMaira Gall