As I’m Turkey obsessed these days, when I heard about a travel narrative written by two American women that takes place all over the country, I naturally added it to my reading list. Although I’ve encountered enough travel narratives in which maybe a chapter or two is devoted to Istanbul, I’ve never really found anything that is solely on Turkey. Luckily Anatolian Days and Nights is.
Joy Stocke and Angie Brenner meet somewhat by chance. A mutual friend has asked each of them to travel to a Turkish resort town on the Mediterranean to help with efforts on fixing up a small guesthouse there. Although the work on the house turns out to be a bust, the beginning of a beautiful friendship is formed between the two women, both of whom are utterly transfixed by this incredible country that straddles both the Eastern and Western worlds (Stocke and Brenner were both long standing Turkey veterans).
After their first chance encounter, Stocke and Brenner would spend the next 10 years traveling together in Turkey and their book is the written form of those 10 years of memories. Although they lead completely different lives back in the States (Stocke is long married with a child, Brenner never married), they’re united by their love for Turkey and all of the other things that are so inextricably tied to it (food, culture, literature, and history).
Since neither woman is a Turkey novice, they don’t necessarily spend time doing what first-time visitors to Turkey would do (i.e. visit the Blue Mosque in Istanbul). Rather they visit places and have experiences that most foreign visitors probably never do such as traveling to the central part of the country for the famous Whirling Dervish festival or to the city of Van in the country’s Eastern provinces which is much closer to Iran and Armenia than it is to the cosmopolitan city of Istanbul.
The chapters switch back between Stocke and Brenner narrating which I enjoyed since I felt it offered the reader a look into the other woman that wasn’t from her own point of view. There never seemed to be any discord between them (ever), but I attributed this to the fact that one, they were older women, not college-age girls on their first backpacking adventure, and two, they were so very much alike. I’ve always found that the people I’ve connected with the best are those that I meet by chance and who I don’t live near (people you won’t be hanging out with once a week). Not to mention, sometimes a country can have such an effect on two people who were strangers most of their lives.
Their writing of Turkey is beautiful. Reading Anatolian Days and Nights, there’s no way a person couldn’t see how utterly warm and welcoming the Turkish people are. While they had more of a network in Turkey due to their frequent trips there over the years, this network grew even more by gaining new friendships from friends of friends. I think most travelers would agree that getting to know a local (or locals in the case of Stocke and Brenner) is one of the most culturally rich and rewarding travel experiences you can ever have. They were invited to the Whirling Dervish festival, had dinner at the home of a local in one of the towns they visited, and on a sadder note, learned about the hardships non-ethnic Turks face living within Turkey’s modern borders.
Stocke and Brenner’s passion for all things Turkey definitely shines through in all of the book’s chapters. And lest one think it’s nothing but a positive marketing campaign on why one should visit Turkey, their frustrations and annoyances are also written about. They know just like any country that it’s hardly perfect, and yet they still love it and keep returning. Whether you’ve been to Turkey before or you’re like me and dream of visiting one day, I have no doubt you’ll enjoy reading Anatolian Days and Nights just as much as I did.