Cover art thanks to my husband (and create space), but click on it to visit book’s page over on Goodreads.
I own a copy of the book.
It’s 1984 and life is quiet for seventeen-year-old Osman; the summer is winding down and he is preparing for school to start up. But then, Osman meets Leyla, the girl who steals his heart, at a henna celebration. Theirs is no ordinary relationship as their lives are soon turned upside down by the Communist Regime ruling Bulgaria. Turks are about to be erased; their names and cultural identities stripped from them with the swipe of a pen at the end of a barrel. Osman needs to flee for his life; he needs to search for a crack in the curtain.
As you might have noticed there is no star rating for this book. I’m not going to give one. You might have also noticed by the last name of the author this book was written by my husband. My review can not be un-bias. It can’t. I will be honest and tell you what I really think and give you some insight into what went into this book, but any rating I give should be taken with a gain of salt because I am close to the author. I did warn him before I read the book that I would share what I thought, good and bad, of his story when I went to review it, so he has been warned…you have too.
So what did I think about the book… Perhaps more apt is, where do I start? How do I give an honest opinion and encourage others to read this book, because I think people should read it, while expressing my criticism? How do I keep myself from being banished to the couch while encouraging this budding new author to follow his dream? THIS is perhaps the most nerve-wracking review I have yet to write. It is one thing when an author approaches you on Goodreads or email over a review, but to share a bathroom with them is a whole other matter.
Lets start with the negative, like a band-aid just rip that off and get it out of the way. This is a self-publish book, and often they are a little rough around the edges. Especially for a first book written in a non-native language. We went over this book many times but still there are going to be mistakes in it. However there can and often are mistakes in professionally published and polished books by big name authors. The dialog is a little off at times, a fellow early reader of this book commented that it was too formal, that people don’t talk like that. I didn’t even notice it until she mentioned it to me, but now that she pointed it out I see the problem. I agree with her, it is too stiff, but it does sound like my husband, he too is a little formal in his speech as well. I think it comes a bit from where he grew up, how he learned the language, and that in Turkish (his native language) speech is structured differently. Another problem I found with the text was that it could get a little preachy at times. The version that was released is MUCH better then earlier editions, but still at times the story gets bogged down with little side trips. There are also little words missing here and there, we tried to catch them all, but I know we missed some. I’m talking about A and The or perhaps the wrong tense was used. I’m sure they will bother more picky readers and grammar police. Sometimes the story gets a little bit cheesy for my taste, but again this is a cultural diffidence. Have you ever heard Turkish song lyrics translated to English, they love cheese in that culture and are often a little over the top with the melodrama. In that regard this story is true to the culture it was written about though and while I may have rolled my eyes from time to time it does work for the story. The characters are not too bad for a first novel either, the only one that I felt fell flat was the love interest Layla, she needed to be developed more and the love interest between Osman and her needed a little more spark.
Now that those unpleasantries are out of the way. Sorry Sel, I love you but needed to be honest. Lets get into why I think you should read this book. Despite some technical difficulties this is a good story. It is also an important story about events in history that are not that well known or remembered. The story is a historical fiction set in the 1980s during the Name Change Campaign in Bulgaria. This was around the time of the fall of communism in Eastern Europe, right before the Berlin Wall fell. Bulgaria is not that well known of a country to most Americans (I needed to look it up on a map when I meet my husband) and the assimilation of the Turks in Bulgaria was lost a bit to other events taking place in that same time period. This year marks the 30 year anniversary of the events that are talked about in Selatin’s book. These things really happen, he was witness and victim of them. The actions taken by the Bulgarian government of the time need to be remembered and learned from. If you wish to know more there are some very good online articles about the events discussed in this book you can find them at the following links: Turkish Assimilation Campaign in Bulgaria 1984-1985 and Assimilation campaign in Bulgaria.
This is a fictional story that reads like a memoir set in the Eastern Rhodope mountains when the forced assimilation of the Turks took place. The Communist Bulgarian government decided to change the identities; names, language, customs, history and religion of the Turkish minority in their country. They did so by force and those who resisted were punished, sometimes with their life. This story follows a young Osman who falls in love during these turbulent times and ends up needing to flee the country for his life. Selatin has done an excellent job of mixing in real actions taken by the government, the atmosphere of the time and blending it in with a fictional love story and fight for survival.
I also enjoyed his descriptions of both Bulgaria and Turkey in this book. Having been to both countries it was easy for me to pick out and remember the locations he described. He also gives us some interesting peeks into the Turkish culture of his homeland. I found the stories and antidotes of Osman’s life in Bulgaria delightful and the way he writes his characters to be true to his heritage. While this is a work of fiction some of the stories I know are based on events from Sel’s own life. For instance Osman talks about playing with walnuts as toy soldiers, this is something I know my husband did in his own life. The book is true to the culture it is written about. It is not going to sound like a typical American novel, it sounds like something from the culture it is written about and its tone adds a nice authenticity to the story.
For the most part the book moves at a good pace, only a couple of bogged down spots. The action is good and I can easily picture the events unfolding in my mind. I hope you decided to give this book a try. It is a good read and like I said a story that needed to be told. I think you might find it interesting to get a glimpse into another way of life and find yourself getting wrapped up in the atmosphere of the tale. I would recommend this book to those who enjoy historical fiction, books set in other cultures, and even those who enjoy a dystopian novel. This is after all based on a real dystopian society. Those that enjoyed the Hunger Games, Divergent or The Testing should definitely give it a go, this is a real case of a government that told its people how it should live, what they could do, language they could speak, even to the point of changing their names at the point of a gun.
I’m very proud of Selatin and hope you give Crack in the Curtain a chance.