Friday, August 5, 2011

Book Review: The Abode of Bliss by Alex Jeffers

Reviewer: Alan Chin
Publisher: Lethe Press
Pages: 265

In a series of ten remarkable short stories, Ziya explains his erotic journey into manhood to Adam, the man Ziya loves. Raised in cosmopolitan Istanbul, Ziya is immersed in his Muslim family and traditions, yet he harbors a secret that goes against everything he knows. He is gay. His mother understands, and arranges for Ziya to attend college in the United States, where he will enjoy an easier time of being accepted and be free to live his life without pressure from family or religion.

Ziya’s journey takes him from Istanbul, through Europe, and finally to Boston where he tries to assimilate a new lifestyle, yet, he keeps being drawn back into his culture. This is a long and beautiful journey. Along the way Ziya encounters old friends, surprises from family members, one-night stands, rape, weddings and bashings and deaths, and in the end a chance meeting.

These ten stories are told in chronological order and build on each other, making this book read like a novel. This is nearly a perfect read. What struck me most was the intricate detail of a young, Muslim man’s life in Turkey, and how cultural pressures make it difficult to assimilate to life in the U.S. But this is more than a story of culture clash. It is an in-depth study of a young man’s sexual education, which delves deeply into his being. Alex Jeffers lavishes exhaustive detail onto the page, uncovering layer after layer of both the characters and the culture, yet with such beautifully crafted prose that it is a pleasure—an exquisite dream you don’t want to wake from—rather than being tedious.

The pace of Ziya’s introspective excursion toward his sexuality is slow and concise. As Ziya ponders his attitudes, so does the reader. This is a book that makes the reader examine his/her own values as Ziya examines his. It makes you think, scrutinize, weigh. This is not a light romp for lazy readers who merely want to be entertained. It is not a book for everyone. It is a detailed study of an inner journey of one man that spans multiple countries and cultures. I suspect readers will either love it or be bored to tears. As you can tell, I loved it.

I’ve long believed that Alex Jeffers is a remarkable talent. I regard The Abode of Bliss as his most impressive work to date. This is a book I will read, savor, again and again. I highly recommend this book to everyone who loves finely crafted prose, lush descriptions and gratifyingly deep characters.

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