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Harem: The World Behind the Veil [Paperback]

Alev Lytle Croutier
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
List Price: CDN$ 30.00
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Book Description

Feb. 1 1991
This book offers an insight into the harem and harem life, focusing on the famed Seraglio of Topkapi Palace. The author uses her first-hand experience to describe the absolute rule of the sultans, the slave markets and the eunuchs. The book is illustrated with paintings by Delacroix, Ingres and Renoir, Turkish woodcuts, Persian miniatures, photographs and film stills. Croutier investigates the middle class harems, looking at the polygamous life of ordinary Middle Eastern households, including marital customs, child rearing, medical practices, superstitions and the expression of desire and jealousy. "Harem" shows how this Eastern institution invaded the Victorian imagination, in the form of decorating, costume and art and how Western ideas, in turn, eroded a system which had seemed to be absolutely powerful.

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Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

This study considers the everyday lives of odalisques, the harem as the Moslem equivalent of purdah and male-dominated harem life as symbolic of the collective unconscious. "Ultimately, the text is a choppy amalgam of history, reminiscence, conjecture and intermittently overblown writing," said PW . "Much more evocative are the 125 photographs and reproductions of art works included here."
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Lavish opulence within a confined life Oct. 2 2002
Format:Paperback
This book could be considered a companion to "Inside the Seraglio" by John Freely. Whereas the latter volume describes the harem from the point of view of the Sultan, this book describes it from the point of view of the women. The author herself lived in Turkey, in an old building that was once the harem of a pasha. Her paternal grandmother, Zehra, lived in a harem until 1909 when the institution was abolished and declared unlawful after the fall of Abdulhamid, the last Osmanli Sultan.
"Harem" is lavishly illustrated with photographs, Turkish woodcuts, and Persian miniatures of tastefully clad ladies within their private world. There are also paintings of what European artists imagined (for the most part) the interior of a Turkish bath or seraglio might look like. "La grand Odalisque" by Ingres adorns the cover and Gérôme, Delacroix, Renoir, and John Frederick Lewis are among other European artists whose paintings embellish these pages.
The details of everyday life in a wealthy sultan's harem (the author focuses on the Seraglio of Topkapi Palace in Istanbul) stuns the reader's senses. Dinners were set on velvet cloths embroidered with silver. The napkin rings were mother-of-pearl set with diamonds. The sherbet might have been concocted from the essence of violets or roses, as well as more commonplace fruit juices.
And the clothing! Veils of sheerest muslin, tasseled caps of velvet embroidered with pearls, trousers of Bursa silk, vests and girdles encrusted in precious stones. European males may have fantasized about the state of undress in a harem (as witnessed by their paintings), but their wives and daughters--those who were fortunate enough to actually visit a harem--wrote home about the intricate and beautiful costumes.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback
This book is a great introduction to the world of the imperial harem. It's packed with interesting information, but not too dense to enjoy. Croutier has a personal edge over most harem writers: All the women of her family lived in harems, and taught her about them. They taught her the important things to be pleasing to a man, such as removing the body hair with a homemade lotion, the particular use of henna, and making excellent Turkish coffee. The paintings add more than just prettiness; they illustrate the feelings and ideas about harems throughout the ages. This book is matter-of-fact, yet accepts that many Westerners had and still have very erotic, exotic ideas about harems, leading to flights of fantasy. But one cannot forget that the women in harems were real women, and not just playtoys. Croutier shows us this by translating a poem found on the wall of the Seraglio:
For a two-bit
Mirror lost,
This sitting here is caught
By the men of the century.
The odalisque had been "imprisoned for stealing a cheap mirror." These women, the slaves and sultanas alike, made the best of their lives as they could, and the author has turned their stories into a beautiful, inspiring book. A round of applause for Alev Lytle Croutier.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Great Pictures July 17 2001
Format:Paperback
Croutier's book has some of the loveliest paintings on Harem life, ever. It also tries to deal with different areas of Harem life during the Ottoman Empire, and I especially appreciated the part about the black eunuchs and how the Harem ladies had to cope with the fall of the Empire and return to their families or learn to find their own living. However, I do agree that it was a little superficial and the subject matter should have been explored in greater depth. However, Croutier's book remains a good insight into a part of Ottoman history that was usually shut out from the rest of the world. Interesting, also is that modern Turkey's entire image rests on the fact that it's a country for "Turks" -- whatever that means. How TURKISH is a nation really, when their own rulers in the past mated with Europeans and Westerners....another one of the dilemmas of this wonderful nation. A good book to start off beginners interested in Turkish history and culture as a whole. Croutier does justice to a subject that's prone to sensationalism and exoticism.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Orientalist Fantasy Nov. 6 2000
Format:Paperback
I'm with Kimberly. Although the book is richly peppered with colour and B&W photos and drawings, the book as a whole is a prime example of Orientalist fantasizing about "othered" Muslim women gone wild. Croutier makes blanket generalised assertions such as "In traditional Islamic cultures, most women would sooner stand naked in a marketplace than uncover their faces" and incorrectly misquotes hadith as Qur'anic text betraying ignorance of the most basic tenets and foundational structures of Islam. If Croutier can make such simple mistakes as this, can we trust anything she has written as being anything more than snippits of wild Orientalist fantasies passed off as "fact" to an unsuspecting audience? I think not. My advice is to cut out the pretty pictures and throw away the rest (or recycle it if you're environmentally conscious).
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2.0 out of 5 stars Harem, a Confused Look at History July 13 1999
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
Harem wins five stars for book design, and only one for content. Alev Lyttle Croutier obviously spent a tremendous amount of time finding artwork to illustrate her book. However, most of the paintings that she selected are elaborate European orientalist fantasies of Haram life and not actual historicaly relevant pieces. Perhaps Ms. Croutier should have spent a little more time researching her topic. Aside from some pretty staggaring historical mistakes and gross generalizations about Islam, the book contains very little usefull information for scholars. Most of Haram: World Behind the Viel focuses on a single royal Turkish Haram - with very little cross-cultural analysis. If you are interested in orientalist art or detailed descriptions of eunich castration than this is the book for you, but if you are looking for actual scholarship - look elsewhere.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book!
This is a wonderful book filled with lots of interesting info and beautiful photos and illustrations. It's the kind of book you don't want to put down. Read more
Published on July 19 2004 by Melinda D. Prather
5.0 out of 5 stars wonderful
I returned from Turkey last year with more questions about the Imperial harem than I could find answers too. The tour of the harem was short and rather superficial. Read more
Published on Feb. 22 2004 by k
1.0 out of 5 stars Was not impressed
I was not impressed with this book at all....the information about harem life seemed very superficial and did not delve as deeply into the personal relationships as I had hoped. Read more
Published on Aug. 20 2000 by Kimberly A. Hock
5.0 out of 5 stars An Visual Splendour....
I found Croutier's book to be visually delightful and was spell-bound through-out. A great introductory book for the lay scholar, and an absorbing thoughtful account of Alev's own... Read more
Published on Aug. 8 1999
5.0 out of 5 stars DEEPLY MOVING AND IMPORTANT
HAREM is the most important book about the role of eastern women written and available in the western world. Read more
Published on Aug. 8 1999
3.0 out of 5 stars well presented stories, not history
The book was fun and easy to read, in a very well presented format with a lot of colorful pictures. However, it is very "light weight" if you are really into history.
Published on Jan. 7 1999 by Serdar Tufekci (levis@superonline.com)
3.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful account of myth, not reality
"Harem"--beautifully and imaginatively illustrated--perpetuates the western myths about the Muslim harem, the women's quarters of the household, whether luxurious or... Read more
Published on Nov. 19 1998 by gzlatnik@ia.net
5.0 out of 5 stars Exquisite look into "the world behind the veil"
A beautiful, well written book, richly illustrated with paintings by Ingres, Sargent, and Lewis, as well as traditional Turkish woodcuts & miniatures. Read more
Published on Sept. 28 1998 by Margaret G. (FoxGold@aol.com)
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