Book Club

Inspired by “Outline,” by Rachel Cusk

“Hey, let’s start a book club,” says my friend on the phone, while we video chat. Her big brown almond-shaped eyes are half closed; her makeup looks a little blotchy. She is talking to me from her house in the south of our town, 15 minutes away by car, but it seems farther than that. She has too many obligations, taking her two kids to chess club, to computer programming, to piano lessons, to check out new schools for next year. Her husband, who cares for the kids while she is off on her frequent business trips, is exempt from parenting duties while she’s in the country.

“I saw a movie on the flight,” she says.
“Which flight? To Tokyo?”
“No, to Singapore,” she answers. “So, these women talked about books, but had a lot of wine too.”
“Ah,” I answer, and smile at her. “Of course I’ll come drink wine with you. And I love books, too.”

Last night was our third meeting. My friend hosted, this time, sending her two kids upstairs, in their pyjamas, to watch movies in her bed, with chips and drinks to keep them amused. This time, I was not the only non-Turkish woman there. My Dutch/Spanish friend Dolores was there too. I met her about 10 years ago while walking my big Rhodesian Ridgeback in the neighborhood. She was walking Kalinga, a happy, free-spirited mixed breed, imported from Greece, where her daughter had found and adopted him. Kalinga ran ahead, rarely on a leash, and Dolores had her face in a book, as she walked towards the big grass field that has since been replaced by a block of hip apartments with fancy brickwork and nice big balconies. Neither Kalinga nor my dog have survived to see how their playground has changed, so it’s just Dolores and I who mourn the loss of the fat ripe blackberries at the end of the summer.

I read aloud a sentence I had highlighted in the last book we all tried to read, “Outline,” by Rachael Cusk. “What I knew to be true had come to seem unrelated to the process of persuading others. I did not, any longer, want to persuade anyone of anything.” Sanaz tells us a story about her 14 year old daughter – “She only wants to wear this ugly pair of jeans, made of thick material, so high up her waist that it’s ridiculous, and makes her ass look enormous, even though she is such a skinny girl.” I have seen her tall, thin daughter, and am unable to imagine how her behind could look large, no matter how badly styled the jeans are.
“So, actually, we can’t really persuade anyone of anything,” says Dolores, “Is that the point?”

Dolores asks how my friend and Sanaz know each other. It’s through my ex, says my friend; he was a friend of her friends, who are actually radio DJs in Turkey. They have a program they do in their kitchen; it’s very down to earth. She’ll say to her husband, ‘Make me coffee,’ and you’ll hear the gas go on, and the spoon stirring the coffee. Anyway, she continues, they also love to gossip, and the whole country more or less knows us now, because they use our real names. They call me, ‘Sanaz from Holland.’

So, one day she was visiting me here, and said, “Hey, let’s go visit my friend in Amstelveen. I haven’t seen her in 20 years, since she broke up from her husband, but I think she’s still a nice girl. If it’s no fun, then we’ll just make up an excuse to leave early.” So, they came over to my friend’s house and even recorded some bits of her radio show while there, so that the guinea pigs that my friend has are also famous. The DJ and her husband had a whole discussion about what sort of animals they were. I am guessing he was in Turkey, and she in my friend’s living room, while she described the animals to him and for a good half hour they talked about whether they were hamsters or guinea pigs.

The DJ couple has a diverse fan base who call them up, hoping for that moment of fame, including a woman named Namanda, another Turkish woman, “But that’s a weird name,” says the third Turkish friend at the table, who has hardly spoken up until now. “Yes, wait, the story gets much stranger,” says Sanaz. So, one day, Namanda called the station, and told all about her sexual escapades, quite open and permissive. She was living in another country, in the EU at the time. So, this week, Sanaz tells us, we were interviewing people for a new job at the bank in Corsica. And guess who ended up sending us her CV? Of course, it was Namanda. And since it’s such an interesting and unusual name, I thought, it must be the same Namanda!

After the interview, I asked if I could talk to her in Turkish, since we are both from Antalya. I asked her about her name, and she told me that she made it up herself, because her own name was boring. So, are you the one who was on the radio show? Sanaz asked her. The woman blushed to the roots of her hair, and looked down at her feet. “Will this affect my interview?” She asked, in a whisper. “Of course not,” Sanaz told her. “What is your name?” Namanda asked and when Sanaz told her, her eyes opened widely. “Oh! Sanaz from Holland,” and they both laughed.

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