Helen’s Page

This entry is a departure from my regular headlong plunges into history. Many thanks to Helen’s Page and Instapundit for a nice bit of promotion, which more than tripled my readership over at WattPad.

The tagline over at Helen’s Page is “For Liberty-Minded People.” Freedom and Liberty are themes that run deep in my story. A couple years ago, I ran across a piece by Shelby Steele, and I’ve been referring to it ever since while finishing up my novel.

Speaking in 2011 at the conference “The Perils of Global Intolerance: The UN and Durban III,” Steele said that freedom is “a dicey thing to experience.”

When you come into freedom, you see yourself more accurately in the world. This is not unique to the Middle East. It was also the black American experience, when the Civil Rights bill was passed in 1964 and we came into much greater freedom. If you were a janitor in 1963 and you are still a janitor in 1965, you have all these freedoms and they are supported by the rule of law, then your actual experience of freedom is one of humiliation and one of shame. You see how far you have to go, how far behind you are, how little social capital you have with which to struggle forward. Even in freedom you see you are likely to be behind for a long time. In light of your inability to compete and your underdevelopment, freedom becomes something that you are very likely going to hate – because it carries this humiliation.

About the peoples of Asia Minor, Aristotle wrote, “They are miserable in freedom and comfortable in slavery.”

The two main characters in my novel, teenagers growing up in a violent world of theocratic empires, slavery, and war, must find their way to the truth: despite suffering real oppression, one can still learn to be free.

Almost four hundred years later, it’s a lesson that many have still not learned today. As Steele said in his speech, it’s a tragedy.

The irony and the tragedy of all this is that it keeps these groups in a bubble where they never encounter or deal with the truth. This becomes a second oppression for all these groups. They have been oppressed once, now they are free and yet they create a poetic truth that then oppresses them all over again.

Mapping the History of Istanbul

My forthcoming novel begins in the Istanbul of the 1630’s. Murad IV is Sultan. Coffee and alcohol are evil, and their consumption is punishable by death or worse. Mina, a slave girl captured by Ottoman troops in Hungary, tries to escape after years of captivity.

She kept her head down, but her mind was alert to the people and sounds around her, especially for the distinctive sounds of soldiers and their swords. The city was shutting down for the night. Stopping at the intersection where the Grand Bazaar ended and the Beyazit Mosque formed a barrier to the park beyond, Mina looked backward down the boulevard and gasped at the beauty of the Aya Sofya. Minarets jutted like spears of light into the dark sky, the circular dome was lit by a thousand lamps, the square perimeter dotted with more, and she knew that even this impressive display would be nothing when compared to the Night of Power as three thousand slaves would set afire twenty thousand oil lamps and all of Istanbul would witness the power and might – and the humility, she thought, remembering how she and her fellow captives were incessantly reminded of the humility – of Allah’s greatest servant, Sultan Murad IV.

Old maps of Istanbul, Anatolia, Cappadocia, Armenia — and beyond — have been critical to my novel. Here are a few maps of the city known by many names through the ages: Byzantium, Constantinople, Istanbul, Stamboul, and the Sublime Porte. For more maps, a good starting point is the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, but three years of research have yielded many other troves of digital mapping deliciousness. Leave me a comment if you’d like me to post them for you…

Update: Scroll down for the maps. But first, a few links in response to a comment asking about the historic architecture of Istanbul.

Update: Cartography web sites. Not all of these sites contain maps of Istanbul, but I’ve found that one resource often leads to another. In my research phase, I had some very specific goals; and although I bookmarked most of the places I found, I didn’t (couldn’t) review every site thoroughly.

Update: Documents. A collection of old and new documents describing Istanbul.