Back to my novel in progress: Eugène Varlin

My new novel is about a crisis in a different city, in a different time. Not Constantinople in the 15th century, but Paris in the 19th, and very especially the Commune of 1871. And for this I had to read this book:

Pratique militante & écrits d'un ouvrier communardPratique militante & écrits d'un ouvrier communard by Eugène Varlin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The life and writings of one of the true working-class heroes of the Paris Commune of 1871, Eugène Varlin, bookbinder, labor organizer, promoter of women's equality in work and in the movement, and ultimately batallion commander and combatant slain in the final days of the Week of Blood, the "Semaine Sanglante" that crushed the Commune. Paule Lejeune, author of many books on feminism and French history, has pulled together letters of Varlin and other texts putting his life in context.

View all my reviews

I admire Varlin enormously, and was delighted to find this modest little book put together very conscientiously by a woman who has worked for years for good causes and on the recovery of obscured revolutionary history. (Check out her list of oeuvres on this Wiki site: Paule Lejeune.)

Among the reasons for my admiration of Eugène Varlin are that he was a superb labor organizer and one of the few elected members of the Commune to keep his head amidst all the frantic rhetoric and chaotic orders and counter-orders after the Versaillais finally broke through the Commune's defenses. He was also a surprisingly articulate and clear, largely-self taught radical journalist and thinker, as the articles and letters assembled by Lejeune will make clear. And very practical: it was his idea, for which he recruited Nathalie Lemel and other workers, to set up the low-cost working-class restaurants known collectively as La Marmite, which became popular centers not only for simple, cheap nutrition but also for developing social relations among workers in different métiers and of both genders.

He could have escaped, in those last desperate hours, as did many others — shaving his beard would have been a good start for a disguise. But he was almost the last commander standing — he had been elected a battallion commandant — and would not desert the barricade. When all ammunition was exhausted, he was seized and slaughtered. He was 32.

Varlin was also a founding member of the Paris section of l'Association Internationale des Travailleurs (A.I.T.), what we know today as the First International.


Bir Cihan İki Sultan — first reviews

I just discovered last night that the Turkish translation of my novel A Gift for the Sultan is now being offered on the websites of more than a dozen Turkish vendors, including this one:

Bir Cihan İki Sultan (Timur ve Yıldırım'ın Mücadelesi) - Işık Kitabevi

And more importantly, this big chain of culture and entertainment media: D&R

And best of all, the first reviews have appeared.

As far as I've been able to work out with my Turkish-English dictionary, the review at the kitaplarix.com site is pretty positive.  They seem surprised that a Westerner can be so objective — at least, I think that's what this says:
Harvard Üniversitesi'nde ders veren Fox, Yıldırım ve Timur'un ölümüne mücadelesini bir Batılıdan beklenmeyecek kadar başarılı ve objektif yazmıştır.
The Turkish in the brief comments on other websites is too colloquial for me to make out — I can't tell whether they love the book or think it's a menace.  But at least the comments show that people are aware of and reading it.

Readers of the English version have generally understood the novel to be a romance about a Byzantine princess and an Ottoman brigand; the Turks are presenting it as a political and military history of the clash between two giants of their history, Timur (or Tamerlane) and Bayezid I (Yıldırım Beyazıt). That's all fine (those stories indeed are part of the book), but I hope some readers in both languages will appreciate the broader story that frames the others: that of the struggle of a great city against an anti-urban force bent on destroying it.

In the end, as the book can only hint at in the last pages, the resolution will begin 51 years later with the conquest of Constantinople by the Ottomans (A.D. 1453). The city will not just survive, but by its many subtle resources will transform the Ottomans into a cosmopolitan and multi-ethnic urban power, reaching from their capital in Constantinople to govern a tri-continental complex of subject cities (Northern Africa, Western Asia and Eastern Europe). Now that was one very powerful city. And still is, under its new name of Istanbul.

P.S.: One of my Turkish friends has given me a more accurate translation of the quote above:
"Fox, who is a lecturer at Harvard University, has written about Yildirim and Timur's to-the-death struggle in such a successful of objective manner that is beyond what we can expect of a Westerner." Or, ".... that could not have been expected from a Westerner."
I'm not and never have been a lecturer at Harvard University, but I studied there, so it's a pardonable error which may sort of locate me intellectually for a Turkish reader.