EXPECTING TO READ A REVIEW of my book, The Book and the Veil, in the March issue of Books in Canada, I was appalled to read a polemic by Uma Parameswaran that makes little mention of the book except to illustrate how and why it doesn't fit into her own political/cultural agenda. The reviewer states that my book was written as a search for roots. This is neither the stated nor the implied intention of the work. The intention of my book is to construct a feminist history and a history of private lives where few written sources exist. Sadly, this is not the only instance of misrepresentation or outright distortion of the contents of my book. How limited is the reviewer's knowledge of the basics of history and geography? Turks speak Turkish, not Arabic; and modern Turkey is composed of many ethnic groups, as was the Ottoman Empire. I clearly explain these facts in my introduction. Has she read it?
The Book and the Veil
is based on the stories of several historical and literary personalities, my maternal grandmother and great-grandmother, and myself. These stories are all used to challenge any narrowly defined notion of culture. In my book, I clearly state that I was born to Turkish parents and Turkish grandparents and can claim Turkish ancestry for many generations although that "Turkishness" is quite varied genetically, ethnically, and culturally. I have always valued cultural heterogeneity and hybridization as prerequisites to embracing the world in its fullness. I realize this is a terrifying proposition for someone like my reviewer, a "native alien," as she calls herself. For my part, I am happy to be neither a native nor an alien, but a writer of the world.
An argument running through the reviewer's essay is that my intellectual inquiry should be disqualified because I haven't consulted "real" living Turks. (My grandmother and I don't count as people?) The Book and the Veil is about the representation of women, the East and the West, and the limits of cross-cultural representation in general. I did not set out to write an earnest book of oral histories depicting the colourful lives of the members of a small cultural community. I am perplexed that an "ethnic" Canadian reviewer takes offence at that.
It is about time that Canadian writers of ethnic" origin like myself tackled the big intellectual and artistic questions. Yes, and their books can safely be assigned to reviewers whose intellectual identity is not defined by their ethnicity.
Yeshim Ternar Montreal
No Place for a Lady
I ENJOYED ROSE THORNE'S usage column in the February Books in Canada and look forward to future ones. But I thought it was ironic that her first column should contain a glaring language abuse: the use of "lady" for "woman."
"Woman" is a perfectly good word; "lady" is pretentious and -- in these liberated times -- demeaning (if it's possible to be both). It's bad enough finding "ladies" on restroom doors; there's certainly no need for one wordsmith to use the term when referring to another.
Dave Margoshes Regina
He'll Take Translation
IN HER REVIEW OF MY BOOK Persian Postcards (March), Sheryl Halpern says that I am "not a journalist, but a translator." I conclude that Ms. Halpern, knowing the difference, is a joumalist. But aren't writers of non-fiction, including journalists, supposed to provide evidence for what they assert? I've got a hunch Ms. Halpern doesn't see things quite that way. Blithely she has me making assumptions about my readers' feelings. Startlingly she does it using quote snippets that contradict the full text itself. Of course I examine why many Iranians feel Imam Khomeini is a saint. Does that mean I expect readers in Canada to feel the same way? If this is journalism, I'll take "translation."
Fred Reed Outremont, Que.
Where's the Competition?
IN YOUR NOVEMBER 1994 ISSUE, Joan Givner raises some interesting questions about so-called fiction competitions run by literary journals ("All the Glittering Prizes"). It is especially interesting in light of the experience I have had with a competition held by Geist magazine.
This competition, advertised in BiC's September issue, required a $15 entry fee and, of course, offered a one-year subscription to Geist to all entrants. Although I was not interested in a subscription to Geist, I was interested in the competition. I entered, with a story, and the $15.
Eventually, I received a letter (dated March 3, 1995) announcing that not only did I not win, but no one did. The "jury was unable to find a winner among the submissions received," and the prize of $500 was being rolled over into next year's competition. The writer hoped I would enjoy my subscription to Geist. He did not offer to roll my entry fee into next year's competition, nor offer to return it.
I wrote back to Geist, making it clear that I had entered the competition, not subscribed to the magazine, and that I did not consider the subscription adequate compensation for my entry fee. I asked that this latter be returned.
I am waiting for Geist's reply. In the meantime, I am taking legal advice as to what action I may be able to take against a magazine (or any other entity) that advertises a competition, accepts money for it, then fails to go through with the competition, while proposing to keep the money.
Is this common practice, as Givner's article and my experience suggest? What have other of your readers found?
Victor A. Botari Calgary
FIRST WE IN BRITISH COLUMBIA must endure obliteration by a Globe and Mail that consistently sets down the Rocky Mountains within view of a Whistler condo or a West End tower.
Now we have Douglas Fetherling in his April BiC column lopping off the whole southeast comer by his three, count them, crossings of B.C., that is highways 1, 16, and 20 (for which he has such kind words). If Mr. Fetherling wants a truly gorgeous span of this province he should continue on due east from Hope over Highway 3, which after a goodly number of hours -- and especially if one takes the not-to-be-missed detour across Kootenay Lake by ferry -- does finally run smack into the Alberta border. I would say this qualifies as crossing the province.
Don't any of the bookstores in Toronto sell atlases? What about borrowing one from the library?
Kathryn Woodward Vancouver
Right at Last
FOR ONCE MICHAEL COREN IS right on the button! I have never been a fan either of his neoconservative agenda or the look-ma-no-hands schoolboy humour he enlists in its service, but having cut out the column from the Globe concerning the fantastically careless misquoting in the "deaths from anorexia" issue, my interest was piqued by his "Who Stole Reviewing?" (February).
The very next morning I checked Christina Hoff Sommers's book out of my local library. And indeed, it is everything he claims it to be. I strongly recommend this work to any BiC readers concerned with the progress of feminism in liberal democracies such as ours. As Ms. Sommers repeatedly shows, one cannot rely on newspapers or national magazines for critical thinking on these issues, one has to dig deeper and longer. Eternal vigilance is turning out to be not only the price of freedom but also the cost of accurate, ongoing knowledge.
Gordon Phin Mississauga, Ont.
Lost in Information
JOHN OUGHTON'S PIECE IN YOUR March issue ("Net Profits") sets up the usual simplistic opposition of individual freedom versus subjugation to the corporate classes: "Either we ... let all those who can afford a cheap computer and modem become their own stars, publishers, reporters, and critics on a free-access cerebral network, or just lie back and run our direct-payment cards through slots wired to the bank balances of the high-tech business interests."
Well, here is the utterance of just one such "star" (in a newsgroup on Writing): "In my spare time I like to write short stories. Does anyone else feel the same?" This is the problem with the information superhighway: the noise! In the same issue, William Gibson, prophet of cyberspace, reveals that he dare not acquire an Internet address lest he be inundated by a flood of such messages.
Society has its "gatekeepers" for a reason. We look to certain individuals and entities -- to use a dirty word, "authorities" -- to filter the noise and extract the intelligence for our consumption. Books in Canada exists for just such a purpose within the literary domain. If the unrestricted access and flow of self-expression of the Internet is so wonderful, then how to account for the success of a traditional vehicle such as Wired (the National Geographic of cyberspace)? We still need someone to put it all together for us and tell us what it means, and this need will become more urgent, not less, as the infosphere continues in its exponential expansion. If anything, the Internet risks becoming an electronic Hyde Park Comer where anyone may rant but no one is taken seriously.
T. S. Eliot posed a question in 1934 that is even more timely today: "Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? / Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?" (Choruses from "The Rock," 1)
The Internet certainly has its virtues and its potential, but do not be mistaken: cyberspace is not Paradise.
Andrew Macrae Toronto
The editorial gremlins had it in for Richard Perry's review of Peter Roberts's George Costakis: A Russian Life in Art
(Brief Reviews, February). The sentence concerning Costakis's desire to leave his collection to Moscow's Tratyakov Gallery should have read "as both a gift to the Russian people and a monument to his own acuity"; and the concluding reference to Russian Avant-Garde Art: The George Costakis Collection
should have indicated that the book was published, not written, by Harry Abrams.
Letters may be edited for length or to delete potentially libellous statements. Except in extraordinary circumstances, letters of more than 500 words will not be accepted for publication.
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