Growing up first in rural Puerto Rico, then later in the very poorest sections of New York City, Esmeralda Santiago was a young girl with seemingly few options, both oppressed and comforted by her Puerto Rican heritage.

Santiago wrote of her childhood and adolescence in the celebrated When I Was Puerto Rican and again in Almost a Woman, which was made into a PBS feature film. In The Turkish Lover, the third installment of her memoirs, Santiago recalls her years after high school. It is a time of immense change for the young woman, who inch by inch gains independence from her sprawling family and strong-willed mother, only to fall into the arms of an equally possessive older man who dominates her life for nearly a decade.

Ulvi is a mysterious movie producer and businessman with whom 20-year-old Esmeralda begins a seven-year romance. She follows him first to Florida, then to Texas and finally to Syracuse, New York. The geography may change, but one thing remains the same: Esmeralda works thankless jobs supporting Ulvi while he pursues his doctorate. She also writes his papers, does much of his research and stays alone in a never-ending series of dreary apartments while Ulvi goes out with friends. But, ironically, his exploitation pays off. Encouraged by coworkers and emboldened by her work on Ulvi's various academic projects, Esmeralda gains admission to Harvard University. Having finally experienced a taste of real freedom and the chance to start her own life, Esmeralda slowly tries to extricate herself from the suffocating grasp of both Ulvi and her own childhood.

Santiago is an immensely powerful storyteller, and The Turkish Lover is imbued with the same grace and passionate honesty as her previous works. She unflinchingly examines what drew her to such a destructive relationship and why she stayed so long.

comments powered by Disqus