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Gardens of Water


Gardens of Water

conflict in the Middle East doesn’t seem to be dissipating
any time soon, and America’s imperialistic presence in that
part of the world continues to be met with much derision by people
at home and abroad. Because of that fact, literature written about
the subject matter is flooding the marketplace --- especially as
the Iraq war threatens to bubble over into Iran and more and more
people are dying in the name of freedom. Just because Alan
Drew’s debut novel lands comfortably in the pile along with
the rest of it, by no means should it be looked at as commonplace.
Quite the opposite --- GARDENS OF WATER is nothing short of

Set in a small town outside Istanbul, the book opens as Sinan
Basioglu, a Kurdish shopkeeper and devout Muslim, is preparing for
his nine-year-old son Ismail’s circumcision ceremony. Right
from the start, Drew sets the scene for his readers: the bustle of
the overcrowded streets, the smells wafting from the market food
stalls and the sounds of the mosques calling patrons to prayer. As
the day wears into evening, Ismail’s party peters out, and
family friends, who have been happily crammed into a small room,
eating, dancing and offering up good wishes for Ismail and his
family, leave for the night --- including Marcus, his wife Sarah
and their 17-year-old son, Dylan, the American neighbors whom Sinan
and his wife, Nilüfer, begrudgingly invite at the last

Then disaster strikes. An earthquake (reminiscent of the actual
Marmara earthquake of 1999 that Drew experienced firsthand) hits
and destroys most of the town, claiming thousands of lives,
including Sarah, who dies preventing Ismail from being crushed by
the fallen rubble. What follows is the incredibly complex story of
what’s left of these intertwined broken families as they move
into a Red Cross refugee camp and struggle to move past their
respective losses in order to survive.

It’s difficult to pinpoint just one aspect of GARDENS OF
WATER that makes it so excruciatingly sad yet painfully beautiful.
Instead, it’s the convergence of each interdependent,
interwoven thread that makes the story come alive with meaning. For
one, the forbidden love affair between Irem, Sinan’s
15-year-old daughter, and Dylan is fraught with the boundless
passion and naïveté that can only stem from inexperience
and each character’s dogged fascination with the unknown.
While Irem and Dylan’s clandestine meetings erupt with energy
and hope, it soon becomes only too clear that their disparate
cultural backgrounds and familial responsibilities loom too large
to be recklessly ignored.

What’s more, the intricacies of each character’s belief
system underlie every interaction throughout the book ---
especially Sinan’s. He cherishes his daughter yet cannot
condone her love for an American boy who flouts all sense of
tradition and faith in his reverence of modern music, sex and other
worldly pleasures, while Irem longs to break free of the crushing
weight of her parents’ control --- at least she thinks she
does. He feels indebted to Marcus for saving his son and bringing
his family food and supplies, but he resents Marcus’s
Christian values and hates the Americans for the atrocities they
continue to commit against his country in the pursuit of oil and
power in exchange for the supposed freedom of the Kurdish people.
He is the bastion of pride and honor yet is haunted by shame and
guilt for the decisions he has made regarding his family’s
future. Sinan epitomizes the fallen hero --- one who strives for
greatness but can’t help but be crushed by the fallibility of
his own soul.

Above all, GARDENS OF WATER is a vivid snapshot into the lives of
downtrodden people ravaged by war, greed, religious persecution and
centuries-old misunderstanding. With every word, Drew captures the
truest essence of what transpires when two dissimilar cultures
collide under desperate circumstances. And while the catalyst for
Sinan’s family and neighbors’ troubles is a natural
disaster instead of war, one can’t help but think that the
book hints at a larger metaphor: the inexcusable transgressions
happening worldwide to people who are taken advantage of in the
name of religion, the acquisition of land, or the plundering of
natural resources. Though some Americans hate to admit that we
might be at the center of such controversies, Drew tastefully
places us at the forefront of the equation in a gesture that
refrains from placing blame, but merely points out the complexities
of the situation.

GARDENS OF WATER is a remarkable work from a compelling new voice
in fiction.

Reviewed by Alexis Burling on January 22, 2011

Gardens of Water
by Alan Drew

  • Publication Date: February 5, 2008
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Random House
  • ISBN-10: 1400066875
  • ISBN-13: 9781400066872