Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Perking The Pansies: A Shamefully Belated Review

Buy the book.
I know I already mentioned what a pleasure it was meeting Jack and Liam of Perking the Pansies fame, back in January. The conversation flowed like the wine we wished we could drink (alas, it was midday and the kids were keeping us busy), and our boys took to Jack and Liam like they were the gay uncles who've been giving cool gifts since birth. Even LE, who tends to be reticent around new people, was hand-in-hand with Jack before we'd even walked 3 blocks.

I read Jack's book as soon as I got back from Bodrum, even holding off on the book I was already half-done with, and I've been meaning to write the review ever since.

So why haven't I? I don't know. So much time has passed I've started to feel ashamed. I've never written a book review before, and I admit I'm finding it tricky to review a book of someone I met who I liked so well.

Then it occurred to me that's probably the best thing. Perking the Pansies is a memoir in the truest sense. The sentences are laced with the narrator, and if he's an unreliable narrator I don't give a shit. It could be that I'm an unreliable reviewer and I don't give a shit about that either. Perking the Pansies was a pleasure. I want to say it was a dirty pleasure, but it wasn't. Light reading, yes, but light content, no.

This guy knows all about your host country.
A lot of foreigners who come to Turkey carve out their yabancı niches for themselves right away, then spend an inordinate amount of time getting drunk and making fun of the locals. Of course, some of the making fun isn't too far off, but when it comes from a place of implied superiority (whether is well-intended or not), or when it comes from people who've made precious little effort to join this new world a bit, the whole thing just becomes poisonous. It's an easy trap for a new yabancı to fall into. And Jack and Liam fell in with these poisonous sorts right from the beginning.

Who would you be friends with?
Yet they didn't get poisoned. And they got away from the poison a whole lot faster than I managed to, with the narrative deftly giving them their just desserts. Jack's exact descriptions of the awful kinds of foreign people one comes across here are both funny and tragic, reminding one that the reason some foreigners come to Turkey is because they're completely unacceptable in their home countries.

Not that being unacceptable at home is completely a bad thing. Sometimes this speaks well of people, and the expats who turned out to be okay in Perking the Pansies are also well-drawn, with obvious and abundant affection. It reminds me how lucky I am to come across the a lot of the people I have here, both foreign and Turkish.

Even Turks have the beloved kapıcı caricature.
Another trap that's easy for yabancı to fall into is viewing Turks as one-dimensional caricatures. I don't think this comes from a bad place. More it's due to not understanding the language well, or talking to people who speak a lot of broken English that lacks the depth of expression and subtlety one is used to without even realizing it. But despite having lived in Turkey only a short time, Perking the Pansies manages to avoid painting a flat picture of the Turks Jack comes across. Yes, he captures what is funny about Tarik the kapıcı, but you can be sure there are a lot of guys like Tarik who are no less loveable in their totally foreign ways.

The death of Üzgün is something I can't get my head around still. And my heart aches for Charlotte and Alan, who I hope have at least found their Adalet. I expect Jack to keep us updated about them even after he's gone.

Because, yes, this is another thing that happens with expats. They leave. They have good reasons for leaving, but it doesn't make it any easier when they go away. There's a constant ebb and flow of losing people you love and finding new ones to love. Maybe it's the lack of permanence that keeps life interesting.

So, Jack, I leave you with a quote from another Jack who I like way less but who nonetheless gets it right sometimes...

“What is that feeling when you're driving away from people and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing? - it's the too-huge world vaulting us, and it's good-bye. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies.” 
Jack Kerouac-- On The Road 

I wish Jack and Liam all the best with whatever adventure life throws at them next. 


urbanjane said...

a wonderful and sensitive review - have just bought the book and am eagerly waiting for the postman. also love your own deft insight into ex-pat mentality.

Stranger said...


Ayak said...

I had my book on pre-order before Christmas and couldn't wait to read it. Your review sums up the book pretty well I think, and my feelings are very similar to yours regarding expats. Jack and Liam managed to get a handle on all this very quickly and I love the way in which they dealt with some of these people.
It's a great book and I can't wait for the sequel.

Jack Scott said...

Thank you so much for this wonderfully thoughtful review. All the best things in life are worth waiting for! It was a fun and memorable afternoon in the sun. It's just a shame we didn't get to spend more time together. Love to you both.

Stranger said...

Thanks to you for the re-post, and sorry it took so long!

Ayak, I, too, am waiting for the sequel...


Anonymous said...

Beautiful review. Read the book and patiently awaiting the sequel!