Istanbul and Mexico City are the locations where the biography “Moons of Istanbul” is set (the novel is not yet translated into English). If you want to imagine what it would be like to go and live on the other side of the world and consequently feel connected to two cultures, you will enjoy this book!
It tells the real-life story of the author´s grandmother, who leaves Istanbul in 1927 to marry a Turkish man, who had previously left Istanbul to live in Mexico. Before embarking on her long journey to cross the Atlantic and arrive at the port of Veracruz, she only knew him from a photo. They form a family and friendships there, and they carve out their path, building businesses in Mexico City from nothing, within a supportive community which is mostly composed of other Jewish immigrants. The plot is quite rich and complete telling the experience of their joy at the places, sounds and tastes of Mexico from a point of view where everything is new to them initially and how they pass through their adaptation process. It tells of the similarities between Mexico and her country of origin and the importance of family, cooking and character. It is a positive focus on her adopted country and she only laments having left when she thinks about the family she left behind – people very dear to her that she only sees again many years later when it is possible for her to travel by plane. The book narrates events right up to current times. There are many details about the main character, Ventura, which awaken admiration for her, letting us see a daring character, as well as one sensitive and committed to her family and her decisions. The family plot is interwoven with Turkish recipes “Water for Chocolate” style and sprinkled with personal memories of the granddaughter of the main character too, that is the author´s memories. The many recipes also leave you with great eagerness to taste and enjoy Turkish cuisine!
And the book narrates how the tastes, smells, sounds and colours of Istanbul feel as the markets and streets are visited against a background of mosques and the Bosphorus and the many moons that it seems to have. It´s a nostalgic book with beautiful descriptions.
Amidst what the character experienced, there are very interesting historic events. Ventura´s husband had gone to Mexico at the time of Alvaro Obregon´s presidency, who having an open policy towards immigrants said, “Mexico happily gives hospitality to groups who wish to form colonies within the territory, as they are considered an important element of industriousness, and offers them all the advantages compatible with the laws of the Republic”. Ventura travelled to Mexico when Plutarco Elias Calles followed these open policies towards immigrants. And the Second World War figures with its tragic atrocities directed against Jews in Europe, so we don´t forget how much Jews have suffered in the world, persecuted for their religion.
The experiences narrated by the characters are a rich source of learning to deepen sensibilities towards groups of people.
Personally, I reflected on the potential we have to make a positive difference on our surroundings, as difficult as it may be, even starting as in the case of Ventura and her husband from nothing, and in a minority group in terms of nationality and religion in an unknown country. I can see the importance of getting support from a community of people helping each other out to face change. The importance of keeping your roots while embracing and appreciating a new culture is highlighted too as is the importance and good fortune of having two cultures, in this case the rich heritages of Turkish and Mexican cultures. And I wonder what have been the experiences of immigrants today in Mexico. If you are an immigrant, I am too, and it would be great to hear about your experience in the comments!
I also saw through “Moons of Istanbul” how the memories and passions that a person has, the greatest memory and passion in this book being cooking, can inspire the next generation and even grandchildren! If you want to stimulate your imagination learning more about the fascinating cultures of Mexico and Turkey, I recommend you read “Moons of Istanbul” by Sophie Goldberg.