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Elise Bellin, Librarian of the Islamic Resource Center, wrote this book review as part of an ongoing series that focuses on a range of books within the IRC collection as a service to the community.

Ottoman Women: Myth and Reality

by Asli Sancar, © 2007 – ISBN: 9781597841153

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. If that is true, then Ottoman Women by Asli Sancar must say one million. Filled with beautiful, full-color paintings, black & white and color photographs from throughout the Ottoman Empire and guided by the accounts of notable female travelers, this book addresses the 19th century stereotypes of Ottoman women.

It illustrates the fallacy of Orientalists that described Turkish women as exotic, indolent and depraved, refuted by such notable women as Lady Montagu, Julia Pardoe, and Lucy Garnett, all of whom spent more than enough time in the region to understand the true cultural context in the lives of these women.

Looking to historical research, this book shows the power these Ottoman women had in their lives, how they held legal authority and often won in cases against husbands and male relatives in Ottoman courts, how they, in fact, often held more freedoms than their Western counterparts of the time.

For those that are interested in the 19th-century Ottoman Empire, in women’s history or in cultural exchanges between the Middle East and West, this book should prove of particular interest. The same can be said for those with a particular interest in Middle Eastern art as many objects created at the time, many architectural features and many culturally significant paintings and photographs are to be found among the pages of this book.

Emphasis is placed on the female contribution in relation to such images, but a broader understanding of the time and location is also included. Ottoman Women is a testament to the freedom and beauty that could be found in the lives of the women of Turkey in the 19th century and should be enjoyed by many.

Founded in 2010, the Islamic Resource Center (IRC) is the first Islamic public lending library in Wisconsin. The IRC aims to provide resources to educators, students, health professionals, interfaith groups, and any members of the Milwaukee community that want an accurate understanding of the Islamic faith, its practices, and its people.