Silk Armor: Claire Syndenham
How far would you go to escape the rules, cultural mores and confines of your parent’s home? Would you chance a relationship with someone does not practice the same religious rituals required by your parents and indoctrinated in you from birth? Cultures differ throughout the world and as we read each day in the news not every sect, religion or country will embrace the differences of others.
The backdrop for this novel is Turkey and the author fills the first chapter with vivid descriptions of the country, the mountains, the history and the cultural in order for readers to come away with their own mental images. The landscape is quite compelling and the diversity of the people is what makes the country so unique. Living within each town, whether large or small, the closely-knit communities often keep a watchful eye on all of the young people. Discord, dissent, controversy and diverse opinions fill the chapters of this book that many will spend hours discussing in discussion and study groups. Silk Armor begins as author and narrator Claire Syndenham relates the story of three young people each hoping to find their way in this world. Didem, a young Turkish woman and Victor an American instructor have a mutual attraction towards each other that can only lead to the downfall of one or both. A simple train ride to Istanbul sets in motion a chain of events that will change the lives of both young people and the author too. Entering the village of Eskisehir where they will be staying Victor and Claire become enveloped in the customs, nightlife and more.
Didem and Sevgi are friends living within the confines of their parent’s rules and customs yet one longs to free herself and the other is too afraid. Didem not always adorned in Turkish or traditional garb and Sevgi wearing a veil or Silk Armor as a mode of protection from peering eyes and the outside world.
Tensions mount throughout the novel as Didem’s behavior crosses the line and her parent’s reactions are not only harsh but some might say cruel. Her father the town’s butcher has lost his business and is hoping to recoup his loses. Working for someone else has embittered the man but when Didem arrives home late from giving a lesson, before she is allowed to speak and present him with the money she earned the force he uses against her would make any young person want to escape. Treated as a small child and not given a chance to become her own person she is told she will account for her time, be home when expected and adhere to his rules. Abuse comes in many ways and whether verbal or physical it comes through loud and clear in many ways throughout the novel.
While the author allows us to get to know Didem and takes us inside her relationship with Victor, we realize that her feelings often remain in check and that the outcome might surprise readers. Finding Victor’s journal at a crucial point in the story the author shares what transpires between Victor, Didem and her parents. Relationships can be complicated and although her parents think she is giving Claire lessons in Turkish allowing her to continue as long as it benefits financially benefits her father, no one is any the wiser at this point at what she is really doing and why.
A plan unfolds within Victor’s mind and the fragility of their relationship at stake. Allowing her to remain as Claire’s instructor gives her the freedom to continue their relationship and hopefully go forward with their plan. But, Claire confides in someone she thinks she can trust as her relationship with a young man blooms. Walking a very strong yet fragile tightrope hoping that it won’t snap. If the truth about their relationship becomes known just how it will be dealt with remains to be seen. Faced with cultural restrictions, obstructions, huge fences that might block their hope for a future, the two forge ahead.
There are many voices that are heard throughout the novel but it is the author that presents them as she graphically and vividly describes the narrow streets, the vendors and her time with Victor. She continues to explain why some women wear veils, the meaning of wearing one that is black, how Didem reacts to these women, the prejudice within her and many others that comes out and caste system within the country. Victor’s journal is enlightening as we hear his innermost thoughts about his relationship with Didem. Will they be able to pull off their plan?
Suggesting that she take the TOEFL, the Test of English as a Foreign Language test to enter a University in America, hoping that this will be her ticket to freedom. Getting Claire to teach her took a great deal of persuasion hoping her father will agree when and if she passes will get her green card.
Different races and cultures clash and sometimes never blend. Sharing entries from Victor’s personal journal reveals what happens when one person is willing to risk continuing with their relationship and the other fears the outcome.
Claire enjoys the company of both Didem and Sevgi and when presented with their special coffee she decides to reciprocate and buys each of them a special present. Didem she gives leather gloves and Sevgi a silk veil. The reaction is quite remarkable as Claire realizes that Sevgi is not the only one that is hiding behind her own Silk Armor.
Didem becomes the victim of her father’s greed when he decides to handle her fate and her future. When Didem learns of Victor’s betrayal, finds out the truth about a dear friend she is torn between telling him the truth about something she has found out or staying silent. Education the answer to their problems as Victor hopes Didem will pass the test, get her green card and escape with him to America. But, trusts are breached, her secret revealed, what her father does will is short of placing her in permanent captivity. Betrayed by someone Claire thought she could trust, Didem learns to what lengths her father will go to prevent her from going to the University, living her own life and finding her own way. When the secret is unraveled and her fate sealed what happens next will bring tears to the reader’s eyes as one man fights and another loses the endless war. Will anyone come out ahead? Whose life will shine? Whose light will go out? Although it is thought to be Didem’s story it is really more the story of four young people whose futures are marked by the past represented by their parent’s mores.
Truths, lies, betrayals, deceits and jealously riddle the minds of each character as one young girl wants what another has leaving their friendship to stand the test of time. With Mustafa, Claire’s friend wanting to take what Victor has claimed the end result is more lies, plans and consequences that are unspeakable for one young girl. Parents rule and their desires are to be met and the possibility to change it all arrives.
Didem realizes the hidden truth behind her father’s motives and then comes face to face with another deception and betrayal. But, she is perpetrating one of her own as she hides the truth about herself as she faces another about Victor. To cover her footsteps about the test she lies about where she was but there is much more to her deception as we hear Victor’s voice, his feelings and the end result of his betrayal. Why does he commit himself to another for a short time? Why does he decide to find out what is behind the Silk Veil? When Didem finds the green veil in Victor’s apartment and shares what happens with Claire the end will surprise readers, as one action will change it all. Where does it all end and what is revealed by Sevgi as she relates her true thoughts, sets the record you might say straight in a direction you won’t see coming and as the police question Claire and the end result you will have to read for yourself. Where Mustafa winds up and what is the fate of Victor and Didem? An ending so riveting, so shocking and country filled with prejudice, rules, strict mores that would forever send shock waves and everlasting memories not only for Claire but for others too.
Sometimes we try so hard and it does not help. What would have happened if one truth were told? An ending so gripping and a story quite compelling as author Claire Sydenham takes readers inside her experiences within Turkey, the lives of two veiled girls and what happens when the only salvation is wearing a Silk Armor.
Fran Lewis: reviewer