Recently I had the opportunity to read the latest book by author Matt Krause, a mid-life memoir entitled A Tight Wide-open Space: Finding Love in a Muslim Land (Delridge Press, 2011).
Matt was a happily single, well-traveled, successful thirty-something businessman living in Seattle when he encountered a beautiful, intriguing woman on a flight from California to Hong Kong. Within eight months they had moved together to her native Istanbul to make a new life.
A Tight Wide-open Space is Matt’s story of his cultural transition to life in Turkey, getting to know the highs (and lows) of a country vastly different than his own, slowly settling in and eventually coming to love his new home more deeply than he might have expected.
There are also a few unexpected twists, but I’m not one to spoil surprises.
I had a chance to ask Matt more about his impressions of the expat transition and settling into life in Turkey.
‘As much as I enjoy traveling the world, and consider life incomplete without it, I am a homebody,’ he responded. ‘So when I am abroad, I feel off balance from the moment I wake up in the morning to the moment I fall asleep at night.’
‘Sometimes culture shock just simmers quietly. Every once in a while it boils over and I blow up unexpectedly, like the time I erupted in front of some random beggar kids on the street (an episode he describes in the book),’ Matt explained. ‘Living abroad is not easy, but its shocks pale in comparison to what it teaches us about other people and about ourselves.’
‘In my opinion, the best way to work through culture shock is to rise above it,’ he continued, thoughtfully. ‘Focus on life shock instead. Life shocks (marriages, divorces, births, deaths, graduations, job losses, etc.) are bigger and more challenging than culture shock; everyone goes through them, not just the people who are crossing cultures.’
‘Your new foreign friends and family are reeling from their own life shocks. So show up at their weddings and their funerals and their graduations. They will forgive all of your cultural clumsiness if you just show up when they need you. Many of their friends won’t, so when you show up, you enter their inner circle, or at least get close to it.’
And now, several years and changes later?
‘When I am reeling and I need the comforts of home, where does my gut tell me to go? It tells me to go back to Turkey. A country that was just a spot on the map is now home to me,’ Matt shared. ‘Turkey is not an easy place to live, but no place is; if there were an easy place to live, it would probably be boring.’
Matt was kind enough to offer an excerpt from his book, and I leapt at the chance to share Ode to Istanbul with you.
So what do I think of Matt’s book?
I enjoyed it immensely. It is a love story, not only of a man and woman, but of a time and a place.
He writes in a straightforward, measured style that moves the story along, yet he is keenly reflective and never afraid to share his feelings. Some passages are breathtaking in their simplicity and raw emotion.
His descriptive style pulls you in: suddenly you are walking the streets of Istanbul on a cold night after a lover’s quarrel, participating in the weekly slamfest that passes for a collegial expat soccer game, experiencing a terrifying attack of physical violence on a city sidewalk triggered by parking (legally) in a spot favored by an angry shopkeeper, or observing Matt and his wife sharing a few quiet moments together before they enter their wedding hall to begin the ceremony.
I started the book one afternoon thinking I’d get going and cover a couple chapters before stopping to take the dog for a walk and then make dinner. When I was finally able to tear myself away, I was well into the book and had given up all pretense of making an elaborate meal for the family that night.
The dog was out of luck, also.
A Tight Wide-open Space stays with you, lingering in your subconscious. It’s akin to overhearing someone half-singing, half-whispering a dreamy, jazzy ballad to their beloved.
In short, it is a love song for Turkey.
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Matt’s book is available here on Amazon in paperback, Kindle, Iphone, Ipad, etc.