The Abode of Bliss: Ten Stories for Adam by Alex Jeffers is a compilation of ten exquisitely written short stories that take the form of chapters and come together as a novel. Ziya, a Turkish national, narrates the stories in retrospective explaining himself and his life to Adam, his American lover, telling Adam the stories of his life.
Ziya’s intimate first person narration begins with “A Story from Childhood,” in which he recounts his memories as a young boy vacationing with his family in the Aegean seaside resort of Bodrum. Precipitated by Greek-Turkish skirmishes over Cyprus, it is the fearful summer of 1974 for Ziya as Bodrum is emptied of its population by the Turkish army and taken into the surrounding hills. Ziya recounts a seven-year-old’s confusion and fear at being whisked away along with his family in the middle of the night, of the imminent attack by a centuries-old foe, and of his pride in befriending a brave young soldier, who like his bother is named Mehmet.
In “History” Ziya continues with stories of his ancestry, family life and relationships. Ziya hails from an affluent family. He is well educated, fluent in both Turkish and English, and lives the best of both worlds – of tradition and modernity – in Istanbul, where east literally meets west. He interweaves his personal narrative with both Ottoman and Turkish history and culture, life in the cosmopolitan Istanbul, and of his adolescence and growing awareness of his homosexuality, juxtaposed with Turkish views on homosexuality and the unspoken sexual entitlements and liberties of the male within the society.
Ziya eventually leaves Turkey travelling west, first by ship through southern Europe and then by plane to the United States, where he relocates to Boston to fulfill a family dream and attend Harvard University as his mother is a Harvard-educated physician. His thoughts on America go beyond the obvious ethno-cultural and religious differences of a foreigner attempting to integrate into American life, but stem more so from his deep sense of self, ancestry and history. In this, Mr. Jeffers eschews easily available stereotypes and notions of a Turkish Muslim’s experience as an émigré to (North) America, for a deeper and more nuanced exploration of Ziya’s feelings and observations about American life, culture and society.
The narrative is rich and textured throughout, and with each story the character of Ziya is further revealed to the reader. While his storytelling is forthright and uncensored, there is also a casual manner and quality to it. However, far from muting the emotional magnitude and impact of the character’s experiences, some of which involve shocking family secrets, inexplicable violence and death, the unassuming quality of Ziya’s narrative achieves the opposite and provides for a powerful reading experience.
This novel had been on my reading list since its release by Lethe Press in August 2011 and I was finally able to read it in 2012. The book was an extremely personal reading experience for me as it transported me back to my own childhood and memories, both good and bad, of my paternal Turkish origins. It is incredible to me that Mr. Jeffers, who is not of Turkish descent, has written a story that so intimately captures the ethos and nuances of Turkish life and culture. I believe this is an innate talent that requires an intuitive sensitivity, understanding and ability to immerse oneself in a writing subject that no amount of research can achieve. Mr. Jeffers possesses these qualities in abundance.
There are a handful of authors that transport me and in whose writing I am able to effortlessly loose myself, and Mr. Jeffers is one of these authors. My introduction to his writing began with Safe As Houses, a novel that I refer to as a reading gem. Mr. Jeffers brings these same writing qualities to The Abode of Bliss – an abundant language, sublime writing and superb storytelling throughout. The Abode of Bliss made my list of the Best in LGBTQ Literature for 2012 and I cannot recommend this book enough.
The Abode of Bliss: Ten Stories for Adam by Alex Jeffers is available at Amazon.