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The Turk Does Exist – and With a Many-Faceted Identity Too

June 21, 2015 Leave a comment

“The Turk Does Not Exist” – for sure, I was set a provocative assertion to address in my speech at Amsterdam’s De Balie cultural centre. But in fact there are lots of ways to answer that question, given the dozens of layers of Turkic cultures, 1,500 years of history, and an ethno-linguistic geography that literally girdles the globe. Here are the answers, maps and slides I brought to my 3 June talk, which was part of the 2015 Holland Festival.

Screen shot 2015-06-21 at 15.11.53

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Riding the authorial roller-coaster

May 12, 2012 1 comment

See on Amazon.com

“How’s the book doing?” All authors gnaw at this question before answering, no matter if our book sold 100,000 copies (but the last one sold a million), if 2,730 lovingly produced volumes of our self-published work still lie wrapped in brown paper in the garage, or if the book, in everyone but the author’s eyes, is doing perfectly fine.

Not many writers can give the straight answer that the questioner usually expects (“Oh, it sold 10,802 copies in the first 14 months,” for instance), for the simple reason that nobody seems to know this figure. Only by accident, for instance, did I or (apparently) the publisher learn that the 4th updated edition of my co-authored Turkey Unveiled actually sold out in a couple of months after publication in December 2011. A reprint was quickly ordered up. Yet, now that Dining with al-Qaeda is two years old, I would like to know how many copies have been sold. Where to start, though?

Who wants to believe the amazon.com weekly sales tracker at “author central”, informing you occasionally that you sold no copies of any book whatsoever in the past week? (However you do, of course, allow yourself a pat on the back when it says that last week a dozen of copies of one of them suddenly sold in one town – this week’s thank yous to Houston TX, Boston MA and Washington DC!).

The perplexing vagueness continues with publishers’ weird accounting. After Dining with al-Qaeda came out in March 2010, I was astonished by the several thousand copies reported sold in the first half-year statement from Thomas Dunne/St Martins Press. Tearing open the full year’s statement with premature glee, I then discovered that the number had fallen by more than one third. Bookshops had apparently sent back what they couldn’t sell, leaving a good total in readers’ hands, but still, well, less than before. From previous books I know that actual royalties roll in much later, taking years to pay off any advance. Even then the math never seems to add up – and, as an agent once told me, publishers make money long before authors pay off their advances.

So, I admit it, I’m not one of those lucky few authors who actually make a cash profit from writing books. That gives me a weakness for what my old Crisis Group boss Gareth Evans disparaged as time-wasting “psychic income”.

My first installment of this virtual revenue came from launch tour events in New York and Washington DC and elsewhere, that happy period when for a historical moment Dining with al-Qaeda was #1 in amazon.com’s ‘Middle East books’. More gratification came from reviews in the media. And even if they didn’t write about it, many former reporting colleagues seem to have actually read the book and enjoyed it.

Secondly, I’m proud to say that readers on amazon.com give it an average 4-1/2 stars in the US and 5 stars in the UK. Please indulge me by sharing some of their views:

“A superb book” (Arabourne); “the author’s transparency of thought [shows an] ability to get into the Arab mind, in all its complexity” (David Schlosberg); “a valuable journey … first-rate understanding of the interplay of history, politics and culture” (BlueRidgeVa); “As an American woman who has lived for 15+ years in the region, I consider this book to be a must-read for Westerns who have never traveled to the ME” (L. Campbell); “I was caught up in the moment” (S. McGee); “The smells, dust, noise of the Turkish, Arab or Iranian streets burst from the book’s pages” (F. Brauer). Some see flaws, too, and if you insist on reading those, all can be found here.

I’m offered even better psychic income from invitations to discuss Dining with al-Qaeda with readers. The book never had academic pretensions, but one of my hopes while writing it was that new students of the Middle East would find it a fast track to understanding the context of their dry historical studies. So I was delighted to learn that Bucknell University in Pennsylvania made the book required reading for students of the International Relations of the Middle East. I then had great fun talking to the class via Skype under the watchful eye of their guide, award-winning academic Juliette Tolay, answering questions about what it felt like to see, hear and taste the Middle East – and why nothing changes as quickly as Westerners often hope.

I enjoy the steady demand for more traditional talks on the themes of Dining with al-Qaeda.  Book clubs sometimes ask me along (my favorite audience), for instance a heady dinner in Brussels with several of the finest minds of the new European External Action Service. Most recently I spoke to four score grandees at the monthly Writers’ Lunch of the Oxford & Cambridge Club in London.

This occasional blog, of course, is another way for me to keep enjoying the book. At this two-year mark, about 26,000 people have visited.

Intriguingly, amazon.com’s tracker shows that book shipments plummeted for several weeks after January 2011, as stories of the Egyptian revolution predominated and the killing of Osama bin Laden in May made Americans think that the al-Qaeda chapter of their recent history had closed. Nevertheless, this year the book is coming out in French, probably as Rendez-vous avec al-Qaeda (Presses de l’Universite Laval, Quebec), translated by Benoit Léger. I’ve posted a translated excerpt about Syria (in French here, the original English here).

So French readers will soon also, I hope, discover the broader perspective that 30 years of traveling and reporting gives to, for example, the past year of Arab revolts and uprisings. Is it really an Arab spring, or merely the latest twist of familiar pieces in the Middle Eastern kaleidoscope? Allez-y! Découvrez par vous-même!

11 May book talk & cocktail at Kadir Has University, Istanbul

May 9, 2011 Leave a comment

All welcome!

The final lecture of the 2010-2011 Kadir Has University Culture and the Arts Lecture Series, sponsored by the Department of American Culture and Literature, will be presented by Hugh Pope, who will discuss his most recent book, Dining with Al-Qaeda: Three Decades Exploring the Many Worlds of the Middle East.

Hugh Pope has been engaged in the broader Middle East for three decades. He read Persian and Arabic at Oxford University and has written from 30 countries during 25 years of travels as a foreign correspondent. From 1997 to 2005, he ran The Wall Street Journal‘s news bureau in Istanbul, and he has reported for the Independent, the Los Angeles Times, BBC and Reuters as well. His two previous books are Turkey Unveiled: A History of Modern Turkey (1997, a New York Times «Notable Book,» co-authored with Nicole Pope), and Sons of the Conquerors: The Rise of the Turkic World (2005, an Economist «Book of the Year»). Pope has lectured widely, including invitations to speak before London’s Royal Academy of Arts and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. Presently he serves as director of the Turkey/Cyprus project of International Crisis Group.

For further information call (0212) 533 65 32, ext. 1344.

Buy from Amazon.com

Date: Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Time: 6:00 PM

Cocktail: 7:00 PM

Place: Fener Lecture Hall

           Kadir Has University

           Cibali, Istanbul

Categories: Events

C-SPAN Book TV interview on Dining with al-Qaeda

December 3, 2010 2 comments

I’d never been to an authors’ book fair before, and it was sobering to appear alongside 90 writers at the National Press Club’s annual jamboree in Washington DC in November. As we gathered for the opening reception, we sized each other up. I have to say we didn’t look particularly diverse, notable, or even interesting as a group, except for one of our number who was determined to make the most of the occasion. His book had a picture of a gorilla on the front cover, and he made us notice this by holding it out in front of him as he swept through the cocktail crowd with a full-size dummy ape in evening dress piggy-backed onto his hips. Plenty of people’s drinks got spilled as he lurched about.

Otherwise most of us, I reckon, had a pretty furtive look. Conceiving a book, finding an agent, landing a publisher, writing the text, rewriting it, getting the book accepted for publication, managing the editing process, planning the promotion, and now, finally, selling the book, is, in the end, a pretty harrowing experience. We were the survivors, I agreed with a cheerfully agitated fellow-author, Steve Light, a New York kindergarten teacher and artist with a picture book called “The Christmas Giant”. But we all felt we had to keep an eye on the others for ideas on how to make our pitches more attractive, and waited for our turn with media out to cover the event (C-SPAN Book TV’s three-minute interview with me about Dining with al-Qaeda is here).

As we practiced potted accounts of the best possible interpretation of our publishing success, one group of authors seemed set above the rest of us. This was clear right from the nametag get-go. Writers who might be ambassadors, doctors, professors, priests, lords or ladies got no titles in front of their names. But if you were a cookbook writer, you got to be “Chef”. One or two even wore a white coat and chef’s hat, so that everybody could spot them from a distance. As we moved into the ballroom where tables were set out with piles of our books, their other advantages became clear. Spotlights illuminated the long line of authors touting books like SOS! The Six O’Clock Scramble to the Rescue: Earth-Friendly, Kid-Pleasing Dinners for Busy Families. This meta-kitchen was where the energy was, where everyone clustered. Several even had big bowls of pre-cooked offerings to tempt the passing crowds to linger, chat and feel more like buying the book.

I had a good spot in the center of the room, but felt in the shadow of the glamorous cooks, towards whom the eyes of people walking past were naturally attracted. There wasn’t much I could do except wait until someone approached me. I wished that, like the chefs, I’d put on some professional gear, the flak jacket that still lies unused under my bed at home, for instance. Perhaps I could also have found a battered helmet and put a plaster strip over its rim and scrawled “PRESS” on it in Arabic. After a while I realized that since I couldn’t beat the chefs, I should join them. “Dining with al-Qaeda” is of course in the mealtime category, and when the eyes of a passing soul paused on the title, that was my chance: “No, it’s not a cookbook, but it does have a really interesting account of what it’s like to eat a Chinese meal with someone who knew the September 11 hijackers …”

My pile of books gradually and gratifyingly diminished. I suppose that at least half the people in the world are not likely to find your book to be just right – I know that only a few books in an average bookshop appeal to me. Indeed, the National Press Club had chosen very few other books on foreign affairs, let alone the Middle East (full list here) — the closest to that category I found was a book about the CIA and a novel about Little Egypt, Illinois.

On the other hand, it was fun chatting with the kind of people who did want to buy my book. A lady told me she was writing about the fate of journalists who could no longer support themselves by working in the media. An elderly man related how he’d set up the Peace Corps program in Turkey, becoming godfather of a galaxy of Americans who grew to be prominent in introducing the country to the world, from historian Heath Lowry to guidebook pioneer Tom Brosnahan. Best of all, I met several younger readers for whom I really wrote the book, students starting out in their discovery of the Middle East.

With a series of people stopping by my table for anything for one to ten minutes, I honed my message about what the book was about (and learned that if someone hasn’t bought your book after five minutes, they are probably not going to). Perhaps this is what the publishing world should do before anyone starts to write:  organize a book fair in which publishers wander from table to table and hear writers making their pitch. Or perhaps that’s what the publishers’ rejection system is actually trying to imitate – if only they’d just say “no” straight away, instead of leaving us nervously waiting months for their message telling us “this is a fascinating and important book, but we’re going to pass”. Anyway, when C-SPAN’s Book TV reporter and cameraman suddenly turned up at my table, I was in full flow, and about as clear as I can verbally get (the result is here).  And perhaps even better, an agent appeared in front of me and said she was interested in my work, flattering my vain authors’ idea that one day I might be able to earn a living from all this books business.

The reality is, of course, that most of us have to have day jobs. I had to leave the book fair early to rush off to the airport (and board the second of Turkish Airlines’ superb new Boeing 777 flights direct from DC to Istanbul). So I don’t know what the final score was for the evening.  At least as successful as the chefs was my neighbor to the right, a former senator had been in constant demand for his colourful tome about What Washington Could Learn from the World of Sports. On they other hand, my neighbor to the left, New York Times reporter Kate Zernike, shifted only a few copies of her ‘Boiling Mad’ book on the Tea Party movement. But then she hadn’t turned up.

In the end it seemed that, with my pile of books about halved, I’d roughly equaled the performance of nearby James Zogby, a pollster and long-standing Arab voice in the American wilderness. Throughout the evening he had looked predisposed to be disappointed with the world as he stood behind his new volume telling Americans about what Arabs really think. Still, who knows what makes what happen in publishing? Perhaps it was something at the Press Club book fair  that helped him hit a vital jackpot two weeks later, a sweet review in the New York Times…

9 Nov 2010 at National Press Club, Washington DC

October 4, 2010 2 comments

Dining with al-Qaeda has been selected as one of the books on show at the National’s Press Club’s annual Book Fair & Authors’ Night on 9 November 2010! This year the jamboree showcases 90 journalist-authors who sign their books that have appeared in the preceding year. NPR’s Diane Rehm is the honorary chairperson of the event, which runs from 5.30pm and ends “promptly” at 8.30pm. I will be joining the authors gathered at the 13th floor ballroom of the National Press Building near Metro Center at 529 14th St NW, at the corner of F & 15th Sreets NW in downtown Washington. Hope to see you there!

Categories: Events Tags:

Launch in Istanbul

September 8, 2010 Leave a comment

The Istanbul launch of Dining with al-Qaeda will take place on at 4pm on Thursday, 16 September 2010, at the Istanbul Policy Center in Karakoy, the heart of the grand old Ottoman banking district. Co-hosts are the Istanbul Policy Center, Hurriyet Daily News and Homer Bookshop. The introduction will be by Joost Lagendijk, the former Euro-MP from Holland and one of Europe’s most famous faces in Turkey, now at Sabanci University. Author Hugh Pope will sign copies and give a talk about the book too. Below is a map with the formal invitation from HDN’s Michael Wyatt. All are welcome to come along, just RSVP to the address below!

For those who can’t make it and want a copy of Dining with al-Qaeda in Turkey, Homer Books (details here) nearly always has the book in stock at its shop just round the corner from Galatasaray on Istiklal Cad., and is ready to courier it to any Turkish address for little extra cost.

Dear Friends/Sevgili Dostlar,

Joost Lagendijk, Senior Adviser at Sabancı University’s Istanbul Policy Center, along with David Judson, Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review Editor-in-Chief, and Ayşen Boylu and Tolga Ölmezses of Homer Books, cordially invite you to join Hugh Pope for the launch of his new book, Dining with al-Qaeda: three decades exploring the many worlds of the Middle East.

Joost Lagendijk, Sabancı Üniversitesi Istanbul Politikalar Merkezi’nde Kıdemli Danışman, David Judson, Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review Genel Yayın Yönetmeni, ve Homer Kitabevi’nden Ayşen Boylu ile Tolga Ölmezses, Hugh Pope’in yeni kitabının, Dining with al-Qaeda: three decades exploring the many worlds of the Middle East, tanıtımına sizleri aramızda görmekten mutluluk duyacaklardır.

Mr Pope will greet guests and sign copies of his book on September 16th 2010 at 4:00pm at Sabancı University İletişim Merkezi, Bankalar Caddesi No:2 Minerva Han, Karaköy, Istanbul.

For map, click here.

Please RSVP to cbalcioglu@sabanciuniv.edu<

Can Balcioğlu
Project Administrative Officer
Istanbul Policy Center at Sabancı University
Tel: +90 212 292 49 39
Güler Turunçoğlu, Michael Wyatt
Business Development Associates
Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review
Tel: +90 (0)212 449 69 97

‘Intelligence and wit … with [a] characteristic smile’ – Washington Report

July 12, 2010 Leave a comment

I didn’t realize that I was perceived as having a ‘swashbuckling style’, but reviews don’t get much more flattering than this Adam Chamy take on my April presentation of Dining with al-Qaeda at the New America Foundation. It was published in the Music and Arts section of the July edition of the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, pages 52-53.

Music & Arts: Hugh Pope Discusses Mideast Politics, New Memoir

LONGTIME foreign correspondent Hugh Pope, currently director of the Turkey/Cyprus Project at the International Crisis Group, discussed his new memoir, Dining with al-Qaeda, at an April 23 event hosted by the New America Foundation, International Crisis Group, and Foreign Policy Magazine. Pope, who has spent more than three decades in the Middle East as a traveler, journalist and student of Arabic, Persian and Turkish languages, said one of the most important things he has learned is that the Middle East is not a monolithic “Islamic World.” With intelligence and wit, the British journalist fielded difficult questions concerning ongoing political changes in the region.

Clearly, war correspondence in the Middle East is not for the faint of heart. Pope’s perilous assignments included reporting on the Lebanese civil war and the U.S. occupation of Iraq. Even as a polyglot, he encountered difficulty in finding reliable and safe sources in a region dominated by autocratic, media-sensitive regimes and a sometimes hostile Arab street.

The author of Dining with al-Qaeda really did dine with a member of al-Qaeda soon after the 9/11 attacks on the United States. At the time a foreign correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, Pope met in Riyadh with a young militant who’d worked in Afghanistan and had helped prepare many of the hijackers for their deadly mission.

In addition to dangerous assignments, Pope said he’s faced editorial room intrigues as a result of pressure by powerful pro-Israel lobbying groups and a media-sensitive Bush administration.

“Most journalists are honest,” Pope said, “and what you read in the newspaper is mostly right, but it is not the whole story. You do have to search for other sources of information to compare and think about what you are hearing and take a variety of points of view.”

Expressing optimism about the changing narrative surrounding Israel and Palestine, Pope noted that several mainstream media outlets have reported issues that would have been wholly taboo during his tenure as a Wall Street Journal foreign correspondent. Likewise—citing the example of Turkey and the power of the Internet on young people in the Middle East—he seemed cautiously hopeful about the gradual prospects for media, social, and political freedoms in Ba’athist Syria, and with the prospect of elections in a post-Mubarak Egypt.

As for his swashbuckling style of foreign journalism, Pope—with his characteristic smile—joked that a life like his would probably be unrealistic in the future, given the dangers, costs, and demise of traditional reporting, but praised the potential of Twitter and bloggers as tools for future journalists.

Pope’s memoir is available from the AET Book Club for only $19. To order, call (202) 939-6050 ext. 2 or visit <www.middleeastbooks.com>.

—Adam Chamy

Categories: Events, Reviews