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A Novel

Written by Alan DrewAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Alan Drew


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On Sale: February 05, 2008
Pages: 0 | ISBN: 978-1-58836-680-1
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Gardens of Water is an enthralling story of two families, and two faiths, in Turkey at the time of the cataclysm of 1999. It tells of Sinan, whose daughter, Irem, dreams of escaping the confines of her family and the duties of a devout Muslim woman. She sees in Dylan, an American boy and her upstairs neighbor, the enticing promise of another life. But then a massive earthquake forces Sinan and his family to live as refugees in their own country and leads to a dangerous intimacy with their American neighbors, as Irem and Dylan fall in love. When Sinan finds himself entangled in a series of increasingly dangerous decisions, he will be pushed toward a final betrayal that will change everyone’s lives forever. Powerful and beautifully written, Alan Drew’s Gardens of Water marks the debut of a brilliant new American writer.


Chapter 1

In the rush of bodies to board the ferry leaving Istanbul for Gölcük, Sinan lost his son.
Five minutes earlier ÿIsmail had been tugging Sinan in the opposite
direction, back toward the city, deep into the labyrinth of arcades
and electronics stores of the Sirkeci neighborhood. Sinan suspected it
was for the exact purpose of missing the ferry home and delaying the
pain of the circumcision ceremony that evening. The boy stomped
across the bricks in his white circumcision costume, one hand squeezing
Sinan’s fingers and the other hoisting his tasseled staff in the air
like a pasha leading a parade. Sinan let himself be pulled for a while,
but the horn had already sounded, and, even though he, too, wanted
to delay the ceremony, they couldn’t miss that ferry.
When they had reached Re¸sadiye Avenue, Sinan pulled ÿIsmail
into the street just as the traffic broke, Sinan’s shoulders rocking back
and forth in an awkward dance on his bad foot. He finally pushed
Ismail through the metal gate to the ferry dock just in time for them
to join the throng of men and women leaving work for the day. They
ran from the shade of the dock back out into the searing summer sun,
Sinan leading Ismail this time through a sea of elbows, shoulders, and
damp backs. They climbed the thin plank of wood used as a bridge
from dock to boat, the green water beneath them churning with
translucent jellyfish, and they entered the smoky cabin, where Ismail
dropped his staff. He let go of Sinan’s hand, and before Sinan could
grab his son’s arm, the boy disappeared, swallowed by the wave of
Now Sinan shoved through the crowd to get to the boy, but his
foot made it difficult. He pushed against the stomachs of men smoking
cigarettes, turning sideways to make himself thinner. “Affedersiniz,
he said to each person he touched, in a voice barely concealing
his rising panic. “Excuse me.” But the more he struggled forward, the
more he was shoved backward by the jostling mob, and soon he was
forced all the way to the other side of the ferry, his back leaning
against a rusty chain that kept him from tumbling into the Bosporus.
“Allah, Allah,” he said out loud. A man standing next to him
glanced in his direction.
“Too many men,” the man said. He lit a cigarette, the smoke flying
away from his face. “Too many men, not enough city.”
“My boy’s lost,” Sinan said.
The man turned around. He was taller than Sinan and he was able
to see over the heads of the crowd.
“Where?” the man said.
“At the entrance.”
The man stood on his toes and yelled across the cabin in a voice so
powerful it silenced the crowd.
“Erkek çocuk nerede?”
That started a chorus of echoes. “Where’s the boy?” strangers
called, their voices rising above the sound of the engine straining to
pull away from the dock. “Where’s the boy? Where’s the boy?” they
yelled into the wind, as the ferry nosed its white hull out into the blue
water. “ÿIsmail!” Sinan called, joining his voice to the chorus. The
men yelled “ÿIsmail” too, and a pandemonium of concern radiated out
through the cabin.
Then thirty feet away, rising above the heads of hundreds of people,
came his son. At first ÿIsmail seemed to be floating under his own
power, a princely ghost taken flight in the sea-whipped wind, but as
he drew nearer, Sinan saw the shoulders on which ÿIsmail rested. The
man elbowed through the parting crowd, a cigarette burning in his
mouth, his large, hairy hands wrapped around the boy’s stomach.
Ismail’s white teeth gleamed against his skin and his black eyes shone
in the afternoon light. The staff was clasped in his fist, and for a moment
he seemed to be a king raised high above the people of ÿIstanbul.
Te¸sekkür ederim,” Sinan said when the stranger handed him his
“Bir ¸sey de¢gil.”

When the ferry docked in their suburb of Gölcük three hours
later, Ismail wouldn’t let go of the railing. Sinan touched the top of
Ismail’s head, and reminded him of the gifts he would receive after
the ceremony. He tickled ÿIsmail’s armpits and tugged on his earlobe,
which didn’t earn him the usual dimpled smile, much less a loosening
of the boy’s white-knuckled grip. A few women, shuffling toward
the exit, smiled in sympathy. The man who had carried ÿIsmail on his
shoulders slid a one-million-lira note into the pocket of the boy’s
white satin vest.
“What’s your name?” the man said.
“ÿIsmail what?” the man said.
“ÿIsmail Ba¸sio¢glu.”
“That’s a fine name. A strong man’s name.” The man winked at
Sinan. “Can’t stay a boy forever,” he said.
Sinan thought the man was scolding him for ÿIsmail’s age–nine, at
least a year too old for the sünnet–but the man’s smile betrayed nothing
but generosity.
When the deck was cleared of people, Sinan touched his son’s
hand and felt the boy’s fingers stiffen. “We have to go,” he said.
Behind ÿIsmail, the sun collapsed in red bands along the horizon.
Sinan knelt beside ÿIsmail and put his hands on the boy’s shoulders.
“It will hurt, but that pain will pass and God will know you’re
willing to endure pain for him. A man has to endure pain, ÿIsmail. But
it will pass.”
Ismail looked at the ground, his long eyelashes pressed against his
“Baklava soaked in honey afterward? Two, maybe?”
Finally, the boy smiled.

They had left home that morning, just as sunlight broke above
the bay, and took the three ferries the length of the Gulf of ÿIzmit into
Istanbul. Sinan hadn’t been to ÿIstanbul since they had first arrived in
the city from Ye¸silli, their village in the Southeast, seven years ago,
but it had been ÿIsmail’s special request to be paraded around the city
on the day of his circumcision. Sinan hated ÿIstanbul–too many people,
too much cement, too little sky–but ÿIsmail was fascinated by it.
Even after a full day of stomping around the city that caused Sinan’s
foot to ache, his son’s fascination rubbed off on Sinan.
People had been kinder than he had expected. A woman in a pastry
shop had offered the boy a slice of chocolate cake laced with pistachio
nuts, a bite of which ÿIsmail promptly dropped on the white satin
of his pasha’s costume, soiling the garment that had cost Sinan a
week’s earnings. A taxi driver gave them a free ride up to Topkapý
Palace, where, like sultans of another age, they gazed out over the
shimmering waters of the Bosporus. They marveled at Bo¢gaziçi Bridge,
standing like a huge metal suture between the hills of Asia and
Europe. They counted the boats crisscrossing the Sea of Marmara–
massive tankers that shoved the water aside, lumbering car ferries
leaning into the current, driftwood-sized fishing spits–and settled on
the number forty-six. As they passed the fish houses in Kumkapý
neighborhood, the musicians at one of the tourist restaurants left their
table and followed ÿIsmail down the street, blowing their reed flutes to
announce his passing.
Nilüfer and ÿIrem had stayed home to cook the food for the party
tonight. If they had still lived in Ye¸silli, Sinan’s aunts and uncles and
cousins would have helped, and the whole family would have paraded
Ismail through the unpaved streets. Sinan kept the memories of
his own sünnet celebration to himself; he didn’t want his son to know
what he was missing. But the images had flashed in his mind throughout
the day–his father hoisting him onto their best horse, his mother
walking beside him, one hand resting on his knee, and the horse’s
belly swaying against her own pregnant bulge. It was one of his last
memories of her, and even though her face had been white and she
wouldn’t smile, he hadn’t thought to tell his father to get her home.
Three days later, his father would leave Sinan with his aunt while he
drove his mother to the good hospital in Diyarbakýr. She was bleeding,
his aunt told Sinan. The doctors would make her better and he
would have a little sister or brother when they came home. Only his
father came back.
Now the call to sunset prayer echoed from dozens of speakers, the
amplified voices ricocheting off the cement walls of apartment buildings.
Sinan was nervous, too, and a knot the size of an apricot had
hardened inside his stomach. The walk home took them past the fishmonger’s,
and Sinan gave ÿIsmail money to buy the fish heads and severed
tails for the street cats. Eren Bey, the fish seller, wrapped the
remains in paper and handed them to ÿIsmail.
“Wait,” Eren Bey said, holding up one bloody finger. From a fernlined
basket filled with his best palamut, he grabbed the largest fish,
wrapped it up with a sprig of oregano, and dropped it into ÿIsmail’s
hands. “Fish will make you a strong man.” He flexed his bicep and
slapped the bump of muscle. “All the women in the world will kiss
your feet.”
Eren winked and ÿIsmail smiled.
“Please,” Sinan said, “he’s just a boy.”
Efendim,” the fish seller said, his hands held out as if he were
mildly insulted, “just a joke.”
They stopped at the rotting wooden konak where the street cats
lived, but the cats were not there. ÿIsmail threw the fish parts through
the broken window anyway, a gift for their return. They took maghrib
prayer at mosque, and Sinan listened as ÿIsmail stumbled through the
Arabic. Afterward, they climbed the hill that led to their apartment,
and the bright lights of the amusement park below spun against the
darkening sky. Sinan promised, as always, to take ÿIsmail there someday
for a ride on the Ferris wheel.
By the time they reached their apartment, the knot in Sinan’s
stomach had grown to the size of a small apple. He massaged the spot
with his fingertips and it rolled around inside his stomach. He wondered,
briefly, if he could delay the ceremony one more year. But
people were already coming, the sünnetci was already scheduled, and
he would have to make his son suffer the pain tonight.
“Go on and see Ahmet,” Sinan said to ÿIsmail. He knew his
brother-in-law would spoil the boy, treat him like a child one last time
before ÿIsmail had to bear the burden of trying to be a man. “I’ll come
and get you at the grocery later.”
Sinan climbed the curving staircase of his apartment building.
American music blasted down the stairwell and rattled the metal railing.
He hated their apartment. From the outside it looked nice: the
cement walls were painted yellow and the stairway to the front door
was made of mediocre marble that shined when the apartment manager
bothered to polish it. But inside you could hear a man whisper
through the plywood doors, the plaster walls were chipped, and on
stormy afternoons, when the rain rolled across the bay as though the
sea had stood up and formed a wall, the wind slipped through the
cracks in the mortar and deposited saltwater and cement dust in
the corners of the living room.
In the kitchen, Nilüfer was covered in sweat and a dusting of flour.
Little balls of dough stuck to her fingertips.
“Sinan.” She smiled. “Caným,” she said, and purposely pressed her
doughy hands to his face.
“Stop that, Nilüfer,” he said, but he let her smear the dough across
his cheeks.
She kissed him once on each doughy cheek. Sinan tucked a stray
strand of hair beneath her head scarf.
“How long has this been going on?” he asked, motioning with his
head toward the music blasting through the ceiling.
She shrugged. “Forty-five minutes?” She looked behind Sinan.
“Where’s ÿIsmail?”
“With Ahmet.”
“Well, go get him. I need to get him ready.” She squeezed loaves
of bread he had brought from the grocery that morning. “This bread
is too hard. You need a new bread man,” she said. She walked into the
kitchen. “The yogurt is runny. This heat is ruining it all. The börek
won’t rise, the peppers are like rubber.”
“Nilüfer, it will be fine,” he said. “I’ll go to the store and get more
bread. Stop worrying.”
She leaned a fist on a hip and blew air through her teeth. “As
though you don’t worry.”
He touched his stomach and made a face.
She waved her hand at him. “See.”
He laughed. “All right, all right.”
He looked around the corner to where his daughter sat watching
television and made sure ÿIrem could not see them before touching
Nilüfer’s hips and kissing her on the lips–a long kiss, the kind he
usually gave her only in their bedroom.
“Quit with that,” she said, but her hands rested on his chest. She
slapped him on the shoulder and whispered, “We don’t need any
more children.”
“What’s this?” Sinan said. Some sort of pastry sat in a circular tray
on the kitchen table. It wasn’t a Turkish dish.
“Pecan pie,” Nilüfer said with an astonished lifting of her eyebrows.
“Sarah Haným brought it down for the party.” She glanced
toward the ceiling.
“The American’s wife?” he said. “Pecans?”
An American family occupied the sixth floor, the one directly
above them. They spent only the summers here, just sitting around,
drinking wine on the terrace, and listening to jazz music, as far as
Sinan could tell.
“Her name’s Sarah,” Nilüfer said, glaring at him. “Sarah Roberts,
and she’s nice.”
“Maybe, then, she could teach her son some manners.” He
pointed to the throbbing ceiling.
“We should have invited them. I feel bad.”
“You should be helping your mother,” Sinan said to his daughter,
sticking his head around the corner into the living room.
“Baba, I’ve been working all day.” She didn’t look at him when she
spoke. He didn’t know what it was about fifteen-year-old girls, but he
had never known a child so rude to her parents.
He glanced at the television. It was an American show dubbed in
Turkish, and the actors’ mouths stopped moving before the lines were
finished being said. A scantily dressed blond girl killed monsters with
a stake.
He watched the show for a minute, enough to determine that it
dealt with the devil and sex.
“I don’t want you watching this. It’s not moral.”
“Baba, Buffy kills the vampires, the evil ones. What’s more moral
than that?”
He snapped off the television.
“Get yourself ready for tonight,” he said. “It’s your brother’s special
Irem ran down the hallway. “ÿIsmail, ÿIsmail, ÿIsmail,” she said, “always
Ismail.” She slammed the door to the room she shared with her
brother and the music upstairs stopped.
Sinan let out a frustrated breath of air. “How are we raising our
children?” he called toward the kitchen.
“You could say hello to her first,” Nilüfer said, popping her head
around the corner of the kitchen.
“So she could ignore me and stare at this stupid box?”
“Sinan, it’s only a television show.” He heard the oven door squeak
open. “She’s been working hard since this morning. Be nice.”
He switched on the television again and watched for a minute,
turning his head to the side to consider it. There was killing and there
was kissing, enough for him. He shut it off.
“I’m going to invite them,” Nilüfer said, standing in the hallway
“No.” It was bad enough they lived above him, but he didn’t want
the Americans inside his house, especially on this day.
“Sinan,” Nilüfer said. “It’s wrong. They’re our neighbors.”
He shook his head, but she was already coming toward him with a
smile on her face.

From the Hardcover edition.
Alan Drew|Author Q&A

About Alan Drew

Alan Drew - Gardens of Water
Alan Drew was born and raised in Southern California and has traveled throughout Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. He taught English literature for three years at a private high school in Istanbul, arriving just four days before the devastating 1999 Marmara earthquake. In 2004 he completed a master of fine arts degree at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where he was awarded a Teaching/Writing Fellowship. He lives with his wife and son in Cincinnati.

Author Q&A

A Conversation with Alan Drew

Random House Reader’s Circle: You were in Istanbul at the time of the devastating earthquake upon which the events of the novel are based. Can you tell us a little bit about that experience?

Alan Drew: My wife and I arrived in ˙Istanbul four days before the 1999 Marmara quake. Even though I had grown up in Los Angeles and had lived in San Francisco for five years, I’d never felt a stronger or longer lasting earthquake. The quake hit at 3:00 in the morning. My wife felt the shaking first and woke me. I grabbed her and we stood in the doorway of our bedroom and we held each other as the apartment shook. I kept saying, “It’ll be over in just a second,” but the shaking wouldn’t stop, and those forty-five seconds seemed to last forever. Finally, it ended. We walked around the apartment, and were surprised that nothing had fallen off the walls or shelves—not the pictures we’d hung, not the wine bottle sitting on a glass shelf above the sink. We called our parents in the States and told them that we were okay. Then we went back to bed, not realizing the magnitude of the disaster. A couple hours later, we woke to the sound of people outside in the street, news reports blasting from car stereos. We realized then that something significant had happened. Our building was fine; it was a well constructed apartment built for a private school that had the funds for good building materials. The buildings that collapsed in Istanbul and nearer to the epicenter in ˙Izmit were built on landfill, or built of poor materials. Those buildings were, of course, the apartments in which the poorer people of the city lived, and those people made up the greatest numbers of casualties—perhaps as many as 30,000 killed. For months after the quake, wanted signs were posted around the city for a general contractor who had mixed beach sand in the cement he used for cinder blocks. When the quake hit, those blocks turned back to sand with the shaking. I don’t know if they ever caught him or not, or if this was simply a way for the government to take the attention off their inability to enforce building codes. Many of the people who were killed were, like Sinan and his family, displaced from their Anatolian villages by the war in the south, by a simple lack of economic opportunity, etc. Many news reporters spoke of the quake as though it were a disaster that struck the rich and poor equally, but while some wealthy people were killed in their summer homes in Yalova, the vast majority of the people killed were the poor, the displaced and the disenfranchised. The earthquake revealed the great chasm between the experiences of the wealthy and that of people living in poverty. The earthquake was not only a natural disaster, but a political and social one as well.

RHRC: When did the idea for the novel come about? How long after the earthquake did you begin Gardens of Water?

AD: There were many experiences living in Istanbul that feed into the story, but the germ for the book came very shortly after the quake. School was cancelled and my wife and I found a relief agency that was feeding and providing shelter to victims of the quake. As we traveled to the epicenter, it became clear how horrible the quake really was. High-rise apartments lay pancaked in the street, roads were cracked into deep fissures, and people camped in the grassy centers of freeway on-ramps. We were shocked at the thousands of white tents laid out in rows along the coast, and the dozens of orphaned kids playing soccer in the dirt. The Turkish government was completely overwhelmed by the tragedy, so many foreign relief organizations flooded the region to provide assistance. Since the school we worked for had missionary connections going back to the early nineteenth century, they had set us up with a southern Baptist church group from Texas that ran this particular tent city. They all wore blue shirts with doves on them and crosses on the chest pockets. The camp was organized and clean and we helped feed a few hundred people breakfast and lunch. While we were cleaning dishes after lunch a young man approached our group of teachers. He wore pleated shorts with the blue shirt tucked neatly into the waist. I remember his hair was neatly combed and he smelled of cologne or aftershave. He got down on his knees in a gesture of intimacy. “You’re all Christians, right?” he said. Before anyone could answer him, he said: “Well, why don’t you get out there and spread the Good News.” He jumped up and ran off into the sea of tents with unbelievable energy and confidence. Later, as winter approached and the Turkish government had recovered from the shock of its own ineptitude, this group was kicked out of Turkey for proselytizing to children in the camp. If true, this struck me as such an abuse of the people they were caring for. It also struck me as such a wasted opportunity. Had these people simply cared for the Turkish Muslims who had lost everything, had offered them food and kindness, and had not tried to convert them, what a positive impression these Muslims would have had of Christian charity. Since this group was American, too, what a positive impression the people of the camp would have had of American kindness. Instead, this group used food and shelter as power over helpless people. To me, this seems like a sort of religious imperialism that is counterproductive to peaceful coexistence in a world that is religiously pluralistic. In the book, I wanted to explore the anger I imagined a devout Muslim, such as Sinan Basioglu, might feel in such a situation. Another experience that fed into the book happened in our last year in Istanbul. A series of honor killings on the fringes of the city shocked people in this western leaning, cosmopolitan town. The press covered the killings in a most sensational way—shocking interviews with relatives, particularly a mother who while seeming bereaved suggested that her husband did the right thing and that her daughter had provoked the killing. There was courtroom drama, bloody details of the acts, etc. The killings exposed a deep divide in the country between east and west, fundamentalist Islam and more moderate, secular Muslims, the village and city, the ancient and modern.

Strangely enough, I didn’t begin the book until I returned to the States and began working on my MFA at Iowa. For some reason, I found it difficult to write about Turkey while living there. Instead I stored up as much information as I could in pictures, notes, mementos, and sifted through these things later to find the right details to inform the narrative of the book.

RHRC: How much research did you do for the book? Did you know much about the plight of the Kurds beforehand, or the political situation in Turkey?

AD: Without knowing it, I was doing research for the book the whole three years I was living in Turkey. When I arrived in Turkey I knew very little about the country. My wife and I took jobs teaching there, simply because it seemed like it would be a great adventure. While there, I became completely fascinated by the country and the Middle East, in general. Everything about Istanbul defied my expectations. My wife and I travelled extensively throughout the country, and continued to be surprised by the complexity of the country as well. The region is so rich in history and so complex in its conflicts, and I read everything I could get my hands on about the history, the political situation, the culture to try to understand these complexities. The Kurdish situation was interesting to me from the beginning, since Ocalan, the leader of the Kurdistan Workers Party at the time, had just been captured in Africa by the Turkish secret police. Before I even thought about writing a book about a Kurdish character I read about and studied the Kurdish situation as much as I could. While at Iowa, I took a Middle-Eastern studies class and continued my studies
on my own—reading translations of the Koran, various books about the Kurdish issue, and political websites. In general, there is no research substitute for living in a country, for learning the language, and for sitting down and talking with people. That research was the most valuable of all.

RHRC: You’ve created a fascinating cast of characters, all with such distinct and unique personalities. Do you have a favorite?

AD: It sounds strange to say, but, despite the horrible things he contemplates doing, I love Sinan. He feels like he really does exist to me, even though he only exists in my mind and on paper. His conflicted nature and his complexity are what I love most because I think we’re all like that. No one is absolutely bad and no one is absolutely good. We all struggle with our conflicting natures, that struggle can be exacerbated by outside influences—war, poverty, loss, etc. I think, Sinan’s honesty, or his desire to be honest is of utmost importance to me. Sinan wants to be a good man, he wants to love his children equally, he wants to understand people, but he is also powerless, angry, bitter, and above all, scared. It’s difficult for me to talk about Sinan in a way that will shed any more light on his character than the book already does because he is confusing to me as well, just as he should be, I think. If I read the book today, I would still struggle with his character—I would love him, be disappointed in him, be repulsed by him, but in the end, I would still care about him because he does struggle, and there is nobility in that struggle.

RHRC: You were a teacher in Istanbul for three years. Did you ever meet any girls like Irem? Is the character based on anyone in particular?

AD: The students I worked with were mostly from very wealthy families, and they tended to be Western leaning secularists. While Irem is not based on any particular person I met, there are two girls I kept in mind while writing the book. One was a girl my wife taught in one of her classes. She was a new student, and despite a strict ban on headscarves in schools and other public institutions at the time, she tried to attend classes wearing her headscarf. This caused a huge uproar in the school, which involved meetings between the American and Turkish principals and the girl’s parents, a threat to expel her, and her family finally acquiescing. The girl remained at the school, but she
had to take her headscarf off each day before she walked through the front gates. She was often ostracized by the other students as being backwards.

Another girl was a student of mine. In the winter of 2001, she committed suicide and the Istanbul media ran very sensational stories about her and her death. According to the media, she had fallen under the influence of “Satanist” leaning friends who took drugs and hung out in the tattoo parlors and music shops of Kadikoy. The media and the family accused the school of not caring enough to help her, and the people at school suggested that the parents hadn’t done enough to save their daughter. It was a very sad and confusing time, and it seemed that the only way people could deal with the loss of such a young, intelligent girl was to lay blame on others. Irem, I think, grew out of my memory of these two girls and my own need to understand what would drive such a young girl to kill herself.

RHRC: This is your first book. Can you tell us a little bit about your writing process, and the journey to publication. Did you always want to be a writer?

AD: I wanted to be a painter or a musician, actually. It wasn’t until I was in college that I realized I was not a great painter or a talented enough singer to try and make a living doing either. I graduated with a BA in English/Creative Writing and wrote off and on throughout my twenties, but it wasn’t until I moved to Istanbul that I really began writing seriously. I wrote an article about the earthquake, which I published in a few newspapers. I colleague of mine, Robert Rosenberg, who was working on a novel at the time, read the article and suggested that I keep writing. We started exchanging our work and having mini-workshops together over beers once a month. Robert applied to and was accepted to the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. I applied the following year and was accepted as well.

At Iowa, I wrote every day for the first time in my life and produced a ton of work, writing new pages in the morning and editing in the evening, a process I try to maintain today. I began Gardens of Water towards the end of my first year at the workshop just before I met my agent, Dorian Karchmar and signed on with her. I thought I would get the novel done in a year or so, but I didn’t have a clue about how complicated writing a novel could be and it actually took me a little over four years to write. Dorian stuck with me throughout the process and provided me with excellent editorial feedback. I had the arc of the story done about two years into the process, and the last two years I spent reworking the story, cutting whole sections, adding others, moving scenes from one part of the book to another,
adding characters and even adding Irem’s point of view which didn’t exist in the early drafts. As far as publishing the book, I feel very lucky. While I was at Iowa, Ethan Canin had sent a novella of mine to Kate Medina at Random House. She liked the story, and four years later when Dorian sent the manuscript of Gardens of Water to her, she remembered me, and the story and she made an offer on the novel very quickly. I thought I’d have to go through months of tortuous rejections, and feared the book might not be published at all. Instead it happened very quickly, and for that I’m very grateful.

RHRC: What other books would you recommend for those who enjoyed Gardens of Water? What are some of your favorite novels?

AD: I read a ton of nonfiction for some reason. Nonfiction is more relaxing to me than reading fiction, since when I read fiction, I often find myself thinking more about how the story is put together than simply enjoying it. I recently read Rory Stewart’s The Places in Between, and thought it was fantastic nonfiction, but with a strong narrative thread. I’ve been working through Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine, which I find to be fascinating, scary, and disheartening. As far as fiction goes, I love most anything by Graham Greene, especially The Quiet American, and The Heart of the Matter. I think Gilead by Marilynne Robinson is brilliant and beautiful. One of my all-time favorite books is Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner. I just finished The Beautiful Things that Heaven Bears by Dinaw Mengestu, which I thought was a very powerful debut novel. I also love Atonement by Ian McEwan and Disgrace by J.M. Coatzee.

RHRC: What’s next for you? Can we expect a book that’s similar to Gardens of Water, or something different?

AD: I’m currently working on two different possible novels, one that is set in Istanbul and focuses on the art scene there, and another that is very different from Gardens of Water. For the moment, I’m focusing on the latter as that book is feeling more emotionally compelling to me. I hope to have one of them completed in the next two years.

From the Hardcover edition.

Praise | Awards


“Fascinating . . . a remarkable first novel [of] people struggling to define themselves in a world that seems against them.”
USA Today

“A real triumph . . . Alan Drew explores, with respect and understanding, clashes between cultures, faiths, and generations. In the end, we find ourselves feeling close to the characters and their world, as it is the very world in which we live.”
–Yiyun Li, author of The Vagrants

“Sensitive and thought-provoking, Gardens of Water is set in a perfectly realized Istanbul, a city where traditionalism and modernity grind together like the fragments of a collapsing building.”
–The New York Times Book Review

“A penetrating, tightly focused novel that balances the sweetness of youth and the brooding anxieties of parenthood with a robust understanding of the Muslim-Westerner encounter.”
–Leila Aboulela, author of The Translator


WINNER 2008 School Library Journal Adult Books for Young Adults
Discussion Questions|Teachers Guide

Discussion Guides

1. Sinan is a character that is full of contrasts. On one hand, he’s indebted to Marcus, and grateful to his help. But on the other hand, he’s resentful of Americans, and particularly Marcus’s Christian values. How does this inner conflict affect his judgment? Do you think he should have acted differently with regards to Dylan and Irem’s relationship? Do you think it would have mattered?

2. Dylan’s mother, Sarah dies while saving Ismail from being crushed by the rubble from the earthquake. Do you think Nilufer would have made a similar sacrifice for Dylan?

3. The relationship between Dylan and Irem has been described as star-crossed. In what ways is this true? How is their situation similar to the one in Romeo and Juliet? Do you think there was another way their story could have ended?

4. The idea of honor plays a large role in the book. Dicuss the differing standards of honor in men and women, Muslims and Kurds, locals and foreigners.

5. In what ways do Sinan and Marcus represent the larger issues of East vs. West?

6. Music plays a large role in Dylan and Irem’s relationship. Why do you think Drew chose Radiohead to be their favorite? Why do you think Irem identified so powerfully with the lyrics? Do you think music is the only thing universal enough to truly connect such different people?

7. In some ways, Gardens of Water could be seen as a commentary on the way Americans are often quick to come to the rescue in foreign countries, only to further complicate the situation. Do you think the story would have been different if Dylan and Marcus had been from a different country?

8. At one point in the book, Marcus says to Sinan: “Our children are not ours. That’s our mistake. We think they are. It seems so for a while—a few brief years—but they aren’t. They never were.” Do you think this is true? How does this opinion influence the different ways in which Marcus and Sinan view their children?

9. The story has an almost claustrophobic feeling to it at times, as the world literally crumbles around the characters. Describe the ways in which the different characters feel trapped, and how this affects their actions.

10. What do you think defines a happy life? How do the characters’ perceptions of this differ from one another?

11. There’s a big contrast between Irem’s family duties and her own interests and passions. Discuss the ways in which the story might have been different if it were about a Kurdish boy and an American girl, rather than the other way around?

Teacher's Guide


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  • Gardens of Water by Alan Drew
  • February 10, 2009
  • Fiction - Literary
  • Random House Trade Paperbacks
  • $15.00
  • 9780812978445

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