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Red Dress in Black and White by Elliot Ackerman [in Shelf Awareness]

At the center of 2017 National Book Award finalist Elliot Ackerman’s formidable Red Dress in Black and White is William, “about seven years old,” whose relationship to parents, place, and history is brilliantly revealed over a single day. William is the son of Catherine, an estranged daughter of a wealthy U.S. family, and Murat, a Turkish real estate tycoon by inheritance. After a quick Stateside romance and Istanbul relocation, their marriage has survived repeated betrayals, but any emotional bond lingers only through William, adopted when Murat proved unable to father children.

Catherine’s growing dissatisfaction, however, leads her to abandon Murat, taking William with her to her lover Peter’s apartment. Temporarily living in Istanbul on a U.S. Cultural Affairs Section grant finessed by cultural attaché Kristin, Peter’s transition from photojournalist to artist has certainly been boosted by his relationship with Catherine – and her affiliation with Deniz, curator at the Istanbul Modern. When Catherine leaves, Kristin is the first to appear at Murat’s side. Over the next 24 hours, William’s future, as well as those of the unsettled adults, will need to be negotiated, adjusted, and reimagined.

As a peripatetic journalist who has reported from such hotspots as Iraq, Syria and Turkey, Ackerman (Dark at the Crossing) – who is also an impressively decorated Marine veteran – ciphers that global experience into a work of fiction about an imploding family whose disintegration affects so much more than themselves. With the 2013 anti-government Gezi Park protests as backdrop, Ackerman precisely traverses a labyrinth of privilege, manipulation, complicity, crisis, to offer readers a crucial, immersive novel of indelible resonance.

Discover: A National Book Award finalist introduces an Istanbul family in crisis, whose future depends on the young son who links them together.

Review: “Fiction,” Shelf Awareness, June 9, 2020

Readers: Adult

Published: 2020


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