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Review of Bright Sun, Strong Tea, a book by Tom Brosnahan (T-15)

I read Tom Brosnahan's book "Bright Sun, Strong Tea" last weekend. PC Turkey volunteers will find a lot there that's familiar. Tom spent his first year as a Turkey 15 volunteer teaching English at the Izmir Koleji  and living in nearby Bornova. During his second year, he worked on researching and writing a travel book. This was the first of many in his career to fill the literary void on traveling inexpensively and seeing the real Turkey. Some of the early parts of the narrative have a what-I-did-last-summer quality about them, and there are several cherchez-la-femme episodes when you think you might be learning more about Tom Brosnahan than you needed to know. But his descriptions of traveling around Turkey, particularly the trip with a Swiss travel writer named Dux and his old Land Rover, are quite engaging. 

What is most fun about this book are the portraits of the Turkish friends that Tom comes to know, both in Istanbul and in his travels around the country. His periodic reunions with Aladdin, a shopkeeper who sells copper behind the Covered Bazaar, are particularly charming.  Aladdin sold to Brosnahan at very reasonable prices, hinting strongly how grateful he would be if Tom would bring him back from the U.S. a folding plastic raincoat and several retracting key rings that he could wear on his belt (which Tom did). 
Brosnahan tells his tales in the late 1960's context of worsening relationships between the U.S. and Turkey and increased political protest, acts of terrorism and deterioration of economic conditions within the country. Against the backdrop of his increasing success and recognition as a travel writer, he witnesses the closure of the Peace Corps programs in Turkey and the worsening climate for Turks as well as foreign tourists, and particularly for Americans. 
After 1970, Tom's tale shifts into fast forward. His wife of ten years meets him in Istanbul in 1982 for a trip to Eastern Turkey; before leaving Istanbul, they agree to separate but take the trip together anyway. In time, he remarries and introduces his new bride to Turkey on their honeymoon. The book ends on a surprisingly downbeat note. Tom returns to Turkey later in the 1980's and finds that the woman who runs a favorite pension in Side has died. His Swiss friend, Dux, dies. And he learns that his shopkeeper friend Aladdin, having been diagnosed with incurable cancer, has committed suicide. 

Although the story ends somewhat abruptly, Tom doesn't appear to be mourning the loss of Turkey as it used to be. His love of the place, and particularly of the people, is undiminished, even as Turkey's population, economic power, and popularity have grown dramatically. He's obviously still a devotee, and that's likely to ring true with most PC Turkey volunteers who read his book. 
                                                                           Reviewed by Sandy Pfunder (T-8)


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