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Between the powerful and the oppressed are the resisters. They are the ones who find a way to keep their moral compass to true north and seek the least harmful way out – not only for themselves but for the people and things they love.
In this latest novel by Evanston resident Jay Amberg, they are the spiritual daughters of the physician, writer and philosopher Galen, who was born in Pergamum – now Bergama – in the Anatolian peninsula of western Turkey.
Galen’s knowledge of medicine made him the leading doctor of his day – the second and third centuries of the Common Era – serving in Rome as the physician to the emperors Marcus Aurelius, Commodus and Septimius. He returned to Pergamum and died there in the year 216 of the Common Era.
This novel tells of the search for Galen’s writings and other treasures of ancient Pergamum – by an archaeologist whose passion is to discover and catalogue the past and by a criminal dynasty that deals in black market antiquities. A branch of the Turkish government is stealthily tracking the crime family and touching base – positively and negatively – with the archaeologist and her family.
To cover their scheme of purchasing land around the ancient city to seek and sell antiquities and to deter the archaeologist özlem Boroĝlu from finding the treasures first and turning them over to the government, the Hamit family entices a corrupt sheik in the caliphate to select and train suicide bombers to attack Bergama.
After the first attack, which kills 23 people, Ms. Boroĝlu becomes ever more passionate in her search for relics of Galen to preserve them from illegal expatriation.
Her daughter Elif, a ceramicist, draws strength from the past by creating figurines of ancient goddesses. The earth speaks to her as she almost unconsciously molds her goddesses.
In Ankara, Tuĝçe Iskan is conducting a deep undercover search for purveyors of stolen antiquities.
The lives of these three women intersect in Bergama in the aftermath of the first bombing; and, though they keep touching peripherally, it is not until the second suicide bomb that they realize their moral duties and their daily routines coincide.
Mr. Amberg weaves allusions to strong ancient goddesses with the present-day realities of greed and lust – and the price of resistance.
Seconds before the terrorist lurches toward her, özlem Boroĝlu is near the end of a speech she is giving in the ancient Asclepion: “Archaeology, like psychiatry, helps us to discover who we are. And our age is frightening – an age of horrifying strife, of wanton violence, of the destruction of whole cultures.” She calls for a recommitment to that task.
With özlem Boroĝlu severely injured, Elif Boroĝlu and Tuĝçe Iskan follow that challenge to prevent the spread of pain and injury. The men are powerful; the women are alone or isolated, but they are not weak.
When the evil is defeated – for the moment, anyway – Elif Boroĝlu invites Tuĝçe Iskan to join her friends on a rocky hillside where they create ritual dances of healing and renewal – perhaps echoing the rites of the ancient mother Cybele.
Like many before them and perhaps many to come, these women seek to heal the wounds they have suffered and caused.
Mr. Amberg writes, “But Elif knows, or rather, she is learning, that restoring balance and becoming whole again are not easy. Incantations my help, as does having like-minded friends, but … her soul is not what it was.”
“The Healer’s Daughters,” Jay Amberg’s 12th book, has received positive reviews on several sites since its publication in July. The overall rating of the 16 reviews on Goodreads is 4.44 of 5. Lesley Jones, writing for Readers’ Favorite, says, “From the first chapter, “The Healer’s Daughters” … gripped my imagination and attention. … This novel has a clear 5/5 for me and I would recommend it to anyone who loves a gritty, powerful story.”
The book is published by Amika press and is available at Barnes & Noble and Amazon.com.