Australian Women Writers Challenge 2013 – The memory of salt

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by Rita H. Azar on October 14, 2013

Bonjour! 

BlogtoberFest 2013, day 14.

Title: The memory of salt

Author: Alice Melike Ulgezer

Publisher: Giramondo Publishing Company

Reviewer: Rita Azar

I wasn’t supposed to read and review this book at the start of the year when I wrote my introductory post for the Australian Women Writers challenge 2013 but, at that time, I hadn’t planned I will be part of two book clubs and had heaps of other books to read! 

I read Bitter Greens but, I don’t know if I will get around reading Vinyl Inside by Rachel Matthews and California PI by Rachel Sommerville but they will be definitely on my list for next year. 

Meanwhile, this is my second review for the challenge (you can read my first review for the book Rules are for breaking here) and I will do one more review before the end of the year to complete the Stella challenge.

Summary:

“Across the gulf of solitude, through the salty blood of my ancestors, I’d come home to the coldest winter in thirty years.  Here on the bridge of my heart, the salt rime of the wind stung my eyes.”  

– Alice Melike Ulgezer, The memory of salt, Giramondo Publishing Company 2012, P. 122.

The memory of salt is the first novel published by Alice Melike Ulgezer. 

The novel relates the story of Ali’s parents who met outside a circus tent in Afghanistan and fell madly in love.  Ali’s mum, Mac, is an Australian doctor and the father, Ahmet, is a Turkish circus musician.    

Their journey takes them from Afghanistan to Iran, Turkey, London, where Ali was born, and Australia. 

Ali relates the story of her upbringing in Melbourne with an enigmatic father who hears voices, hallucinates, is intoxicated with hashish and Islamism but is also ravishing and captivating. 

The author makes us continuously travel between countries as Ali is trying to understand her father and his history; and also travel between events that happened in the past and other in the present time. 

My Thoughts:

We had a very interesting talk about this book at one of my book clubs meeting.  I read the book thinking that Ali was a girl and the story was a little bit autobiographical.

I was sharing my thoughts about the book with the others when one of the members asked me why I was referring to Ali as a “she”. 

The other members agreed, they all thought that Ali was a boy.  I was the only one who read the book thinking the main character was a girl!

I wanted to sink into my chair but I was pretty sure about my opinion: Ali was a woman. 

I did a quick Google search and found this very interesting interview with the author.  Alice Melike Ulgezer wrote the book leaving the gender of Ali deliberately ambiguous.

I loved The memory of salt.  I really liked the images and the beautiful way the author had with words. 

“I leapt up from the wooden bench and ran to my room where the resident guitar lived and hauled it cradled in my arms, to my father.”

– Alice Melike Ulgezer, The memory of salt, Giramondo Publishing Company 2012, P. 27

The way the author writes makes us travel and dream.  I liked the way the author was describing the relationship the main character had with the parents and, more specifically, the father.   

I also enjoyed when the author was describing some places in Melbourne such as Sydney road.  I could imagine Ahmet walking in this street.   

“But only as far as a restaurant or café on Sydney road.  He would play the saz, read women’s coffee cups and drink raki and I would fall asleep under the table, only to be woken by my mother carrying me to the car.”

– Alice Melike Ulgezer, The memory of salt, Giramondo Publishing Company 2012, P. 83.

I had a bit of difficulty to start the book but once I was engaged I hardly could put it down. 

Some of the comments of the other members of the group were that at some places in the book, the story was hard to follow.  It was hard to know if the author was writing about Ali as a child or an adult for example; or if Ali was in Turkey or in Australia when recalling some events.   

The author also used different languages in her book such as French, German, and Turkish and some of the members of the book club found it hard to follow or understand what the author wanted to say.

What I really loved in this story was that even though the father of Ali suffers from some kind of mental illness, does terrible things and is not a conventional type of father, I could feel the love the main character had for him and how special he was in her/his eyes. 

“It was as if I never quite grasped, that he was in fact, of the flesh.”

– Alice Melike Ulgezer, The memory of salt, Giramondo Publishing Company 2012, P. 277.

Overall, I would suggest this book if you’re looking for a different type of story, something unconventional, interesting and a little bit mysterious. 

What novel are you reading? 

Au revoir!  

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Janet @ Redland City Living October 14, 2013 at 7:17 pm

I’m reading a book called “Amy’s Honeymoon” about a bride who was jilted but decides to go on her honeymoon to Rome anyway! Pure chic lit fun :-)
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Rita Azar October 15, 2013 at 2:16 pm

Sounds like a really fun book indeed! I’ll put it on my list!
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Lizzy - Muddle-Headed Mamma October 14, 2013 at 7:26 pm

That’s really interesting and clever that the author managed to write an entire novel leaving the gender of the protagonist ambiguous! When I was reading your summary, I was imagining her to be a girl too, but I guess that may have been because the author’s name is Alice. It sounds quite an original novel. Great review, Rita!
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Rita Azar October 15, 2013 at 2:19 pm

Thanks Lizzy! I thought the same thing, that Ali was a nickname for Alice. the novel was really interesting the way it was written.
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Mike October 22, 2013 at 3:28 pm

I’ve got two books that are pending for me – Until Tuesday and Dishrags To Dirtbags. Do you think The Memory Of Salt would have been better with the sex of Ali being designated male or female? I think that is such a fantastic, unique idea and it really got me to thinking about various books where this could have been done. I really enjoyed your review, Rita!
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Rita Azar October 23, 2013 at 10:00 am

Thanks Mike! Thinking about it afterwards, I think this is what made the novel very special (the fact that the gender was not disclosed). Many things were left to the imagination of the reader in The memory of Salt and the ambiguity of the gender of the main character was part of it. I think this is what gave to the book this little twist of difference comparing to other novels.
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