The Turk and My Mother

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

In her first novel The Turk and My Mother, Mary Helen Stefaniak, a published writer of many short stories and a novella of the same title, draws on her own family stories in describing the transition of a Croatian immigrant family from its small village of Novo Selo in Hungary to Milwaukee prior to and following World War I. Framed by the narrative of George Iljasic telling his daughter Mary Helen why his mother rushed to the ladies room when she saw the brown eyes of Omar Sharif in Doctor Zhivago, the novel explores the lives, loves, and complex connections of an extended family.

While the story-telling father begins explaining one incident, that story unfolds into other narratives in which different individuals at times become the focal points telling their significant adventures. For instance, after George describes his mother and wonders about her surprising exit, the usually prim and stern mother recalls the night with the dark-eyed Turk that provoked her emotional response. In her story, Staramajka thinks aloud back to moments of feeling most herself as a young girl swimming in the Drava River and connecting with her true love. Kata, George’s first love, tells her mother’s story, one explaining why she couldn’t marry George. Like a tapestry woven in colorful connecting threads revealing patterns and detail, the stories describe a family and all of the significant people and incidents that shape it.

Through tales of hardship and passion, joy and misadventure, this warm, funny, charming novel reverberates with universal and particular human experiences. It chronicles stages of adaptation to America and stages of life as it celebrates the important truths revealed in the process.