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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Lavish opulence within a confined life
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...
Published on Oct. 2 2002 by E. A. Lovitt

versus
2.0 out of 5 stars Orientalist Fantasy
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...
Published on Nov. 6 2000 by Sufisticated


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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Lavish opulence within a confined life, Oct. 2 2002
By 
E. A. Lovitt "starmoth" (Gladwin, MI USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Harem: The World Behind the Veil (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. Even the color of a lady's handkerchief could convey an unspoken message, rather like the Victorian Language of Flowers. Red signified passionate love. Purple meant 'suffering from love.' A torn, burned handkerchief signaled that its owner was dying of heartache.
Wives, concubines, and female relatives were not the only inhabitants of a rich man's harem. There were also the eunuchs. The author goes into quite a bit of detail (as she does with everything in this wonderful book) about the different types of eunuchs and how they were created. Male readers might even want to skip this chapter since it involves verbs like 'bruising and crushing,' 'dragging,' 'twisting,' and 'searing.' A prepubescent boy had the best chance of surviving the various operations.
Eunuchs were also employed by the holy mosques in Mecca and Medina, as attendants for the female worshippers.
One of the questions most frequently asked of the author is whether harems still exist, and in the last section of her book, "Harems Today," she answers, "yes, they do." The only disappointment in this otherwise fantastic and opulent history is that Alev Lytle Croutier was not able to include a photograph of a modern harem. A still from the James Bond movie, "The Spy Who Loved Me" has to serve as a rather silly substitute.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Behind The Veil is clear, fascinating and worth your time., July 24 2002
By 
This review is from: Harem: The World Behind the Veil (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
By 
spideranansie (Singapore - Manchester) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Harem: The World Behind the Veil (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
This review is from: Harem: The World Behind the Veil (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
This review is from: Harem: The World Behind the Veil (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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3.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful account of myth, not reality, Nov. 19 1998
This review is from: Harem: The World Behind the Veil (Paperback)
"Harem"--beautifully and imaginatively illustrated--perpetuates the western myths about the Muslim harem, the women's quarters of the household, whether luxurious or shabby. Readers should recognize that few of the glorious illustrations, most of which show European women in various states of elaborate undress, have anything to do with the reality of the sultan's harem, the truth of which has been filtered through the eyes of western travelers who could never have been omitted to the harem. This is a not a scholarly account, by any means, but a wide-ranging collection of fascinating images.
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5.0 out of 5 stars wonderful, Feb. 22 2004
By 
k "A Vintage Reviewer" (Forest Grove, OR, USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Harem: The World Behind the Veil (Paperback)
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. This book is a wonderful work, the hours it must have taken to write, and research all the pictures from private collections. In an age of fast produced books, this is a marvel!
I am leading a small tour to Istanbul this spring, and am happy I found this treasure, happy reading.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Exquisite look into "the world behind the veil", Sept. 28 1998
This review is from: Harem: The World Behind the Veil (Paperback)
A beautiful, well written book, richly illustrated with paintings by Ingres, Sargent, and Lewis, as well as traditional Turkish woodcuts & miniatures. Croutier takes an intimate look at an obscure subject, making for a fascinating read. All aspects of harem life, from eunuchs to the elaborate bathing rituals, are detailed, with the gorgeous color plates enhancing the experience. Definitely a book you will remember.
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1.0 out of 5 stars Was not impressed, Aug. 20 2000
This review is from: Harem: The World Behind the Veil (Paperback)
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. The only plus to this book is the colorful pictures.
This book would have been better if it had been advertised as a art history book than a book about Ottoman harems.
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5.0 out of 5 stars DEEPLY MOVING AND IMPORTANT, Aug. 8 1999
By A Customer
This review is from: Harem: The World Behind the Veil (Paperback)
HAREM is the most important book about the role of eastern women written and available in the western world. It should be required reading for every young person interested in the deep meaning behind the tradition. Richly illustrated both by image and by historical example.
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Harem: The World Behind the Veil
Harem: The World Behind the Veil by Alev Lytle Croutier (Paperback - Feb. 1 1991)
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