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LEYLA: The Black Tulip
Leyla: The Black Tulip
Amazon.com Amazon.com
Powell's Books Powell's Books

Alev gives an overview of the book:

 In her adult title Harem: The World behind the Veil (1989), Croutier explored the Grand Harem in Istanbul's Tokapi Palace, and she returns to this evocative setting in her first novel for young people.  The year is 1720. Twelve-year-old Leyla has always been privy to a happy lifestyle in Istanbul. The daughter of a magnificent painter, Leyla's existence has been one full of art, culture, gardening, and love. She is passionate about her family, and thrives on tending her garden where she grows the most amazing flowers. But when her father heads off to war to paint the battle scenes and never returns, Leyla's life changes drastically.  Leyla could have never imagined that when she kissed her father goodbye on that fateful day, that she would never see him again. But as the months pass, there is no sign of her father, and Leyla can't help but feel dreadful. But feeling...
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 In her adult title Harem: The World behind the Veil (1989), Croutier explored the Grand Harem in Istanbul's Tokapi Palace, and she returns to this evocative setting in her first novel for young people. 

The year is 1720. Twelve-year-old Leyla has always been privy to a happy lifestyle in Istanbul. The daughter of a magnificent painter, Leyla's existence has been one full of art, culture, gardening, and love. She is passionate about her family, and thrives on tending her garden where she grows the most amazing flowers. But when her father heads off to war to paint the battle scenes and never returns, Leyla's life changes drastically. 

Leyla could have never imagined that when she kissed her father goodbye on that fateful day, that she would never see him again. But as the months pass, there is no sign of her father, and Leyla can't help but feel dreadful. But feeling sorry for herself is out of the question; especially with the shambles that her family is in. Since her father's departure, there is little to no food, and the cold is so strong that Leyla and her family often find themselves sleeping side-by-side in a little ball, just to stay warm. He only consolation for her family's troubles is the work she does in her garden. There she has begun to grow flowers of all different shapes, sizes, and colors. But her most prized flower is the tulip. Legend has it that no one has ever been able to grow a black tulip. Leyla is determined to do just that. But she is forced to put her dreams on the backburner when her family's troubles begin to worsen. Soon she finds herself at Topkapi Palace, a newcomer to the royal harem. When her talent for gardening surfaces, however, Leyla is placed under the guidance of the Mistress of the Flowers. It is here where she secretly plants the special tulips she has brought with her from her home. Now her only worry is what will happen to her if the tulip bulbs are discovered. 

Leyla is such a refreshing, remarkable character. Her loyalty to her family is admirable, as is the maturity she displays in having to do what's right to assist those she loves in surviving. I love the time that she spends in the gardens, and how she speaks of the flowers; but it is the way that she captures her thoughts, dreams, and hopes in her painting that is quite lovely. While she is not a prevalent character, I found the inclusion of the Mistress of the Flowers to be wonderful. She seems like such a bright, observant, kind individual, that I couldn't help feeling interested in her whenever she popped up. An engrossing and powerful read with strong characters who won't soon be forgotten. Bravo Ms. Croutier! 

Erika Sorocco/Amazon.com 

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Chapter 2 The First Tulips 

After Father left, Mother and I enlarged our vegetable and flower garden with my brother’s help. We grew every possible vegetable, enough for our family and enough to sell and trade. Mother had her hands full with my twin baby brothers, so Cengiz and I took the produce to the nearby village markets.  

I also had a flower patch of my own. My favorite flowers were the tulips.

“You know what it means?” Cengiz laughed. “It really means ‘turban’—you know, those onion-like hats that the Ottomans wear.”

“It’s a good name for them.” I said.

I’ll never forget seeing my first tulips. It was the first spring after Father left. Cengiz and I had gone up to the hills to collect water from the mineral springs, something that Father always did. On the way, we got lost and found ourselves in a meadow that was splattered with purple flowers. At first we thought that they were irises, the earliest wild flowers of the spring. But as we got closer, we realized that these flowers were unique. They were so beautiful in the slender way they formed an urn, then flashed their pointed petals toward the sky. We didn’t pick them or dig them up. Something inside us told us they were not to be picked. Not yet anyway. But we returned often to watch them grow that first season, to see them at different stages. It became our habit to detour to the meadow whenever we went to collect water from the springs. We discovered that they didn’t last long. Then, after they dropped all their petals and their stems and leaves faded, we dug in the earth to find their seeds.

“Look, it’s growing out of an onion!” Cengiz said.

“You think it’s edible?” I asked.

“Maybe.”

“I dare you.” I knew Cengiz couldn’t resist a dare.

This time he surprised me. “You go first,” he said. “Go ahead!”

I cleaned off the whiskers that had rooted around the onion-like bulb and took a bite. I spit it right out. “It’s bitter! It tastes awful.”

“Maybe you have to cook them first.” Cengiz laughed at my sour expression.

“Maybe they’re not meant to be eaten. Maybe they are just meant to be beautiful,” I said.

We both remained silent, as if our minds had wandered off somewhere else.

“Cengiz, do you think Father is coming back?” I asked.

He hesitated before responding. “I don’t know.”

“But do you think he is?” I pressed him, wishing he would tell me what I longed to hear.

He shook his head, and confirmed that we both feared the same unspeakable thing.

“What are we going to do? Mama says there won’t be enough food or money to last through the year.” We were already stretched. But we were also proud—too proud to show others how much we were in need.

“I will join the army. I’m the only man in the family.”

“Don’t be silly. You’re just a boy.” He looked hurt, so I said, “How could you leave us all alone, Cengiz? Look what happened to Father when he went with the army? He disappeared, and now we have nothing. I don’t want to lose you as well. Neither does Mama.”

“We have to find you a husband, then. An old man with a lot of money.”

I wanted to pinch his cheek, but he jumped up and dodged away, laughing. He’d spoken in a joking tone, but I knew he meant it. I chased after him as he ran and threw the partly eaten tulip bulb at him. But he was so quick that he turned and caught it in his hand.

He suddenly had an idea. “What would happen if you planted these bulbs? You have the magic touch. You can get anything to grow.”

“Maybe you’re right. It won’t hurt to try,” I said.

Together we dug up as many bulbs as we could carry home. There, I planted them all in a patch. I returned to the meadow as often as I could, to dig more bulbs to plant in my patch. Cengiz helped me. We planted lots and lots of bulbs and prayed they would produce flowers the next spring.

But we never again spoke of our father.

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A charming experience from beginning to end.

About Alev

 Alev Lytle Croutier is the most widely published woman novelist of Turkish origin. Her work has been translated into twenty-one languages.

Alev was born in Izmir, Turkey. She came to the US when she was eighteen to attend College (Oberlin), became a...

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