“Stories are what connect us and how I understand the world. Not only the political contours of the world but the emotional contours of the world. And I believe the two are inextricably linked.”
– Elliot Ackerman
On July 23rd, 2020, The WACH had the opportunity to interview journalist and author Elliot Ackerman. Ackerman has many accolades to his name, ranging from the Purple Heart and Silver Star during his time as a Marine intelligence officer to being an Andrew Carnegie Medal nominee for his writings. CEO of the WACH Maryanne Maldonado speaks with Ackerman to talk about his time in Istanbul, the inspirations behind his current work “Red Dress in Black and White: A novel”, and the intersectionality between personal and political identity. Below are some key highlights pertaining to this extremely informative conversation.
A Synopsis of “Red Dress in Black and White”
To dive into the interview, Ackerman gives us a brief glimpse in the world he has created in “Red Dress in Black and White”. Written over the course of a single day, the story follows the protagonist, an American woman named Catherine, as she attempts to leave her Turkish husband, Murat, behind to be with an American photographer, Peter. As noted by Ackerman, it truly tells a story of “societal upheaval told through the prism of personal upheaval”.
Personal Anecdotes, and Inspirations
Ackerman explains that a lot of storytelling originates from the truth. In this particular instance, the story he tells concerns the struggles and outbreaks of the Gezi Park protests. Citing these protests as the equivalent of the Black Lives Matter movements in America in terms of importance, these protests centered on the development of a shopping mall on a small plot of land in the Gezi Park. The story written by Ackerman alludes to a lot of the events in relation to the Gezi Park protest. For instance, Catherine’s Turkish husband is a real estate developer in the novel. As previously referenced, the Gezi Park protests pertain to real estate and urban development in a revered place in the area.
Furthermore, Ackerman gives us a brief glimpse into the geopolitical references, stating that a lot of parallels can be seen between Turkish and American politics and societies. Ackerman had a great time writing about these different perspectives, and felt that this book showcases the “invisible structures and power dynamics” that have the capacity to affect anyone and everyone.
The Message Behind the Title
In all of the intensity surrounding the Gezi Park protests, an image of a young woman became the image of resistance in Turkey. In a red dress and wearing a white tote bag (colors representing the Turkey flag), the picture captures her simply walking to work. However, a police officer sprays her right in the face with tear gas.
This picture encapsulated the struggles of the Gezi Park protests in Turkey, and is cleverly represented in the title of Ackerman’s novel. Additionally, Ackerman also explains how it is referenced within the novel itself. Peter, the man Catherine wants to leave with, is interested in capturing pictures of life in Istanbul. Peter attempts to capture this picture, but he takes it in black in white. As a result, it goes into obscurity, unable to capture the deeper significance of the color.
Ackerman’s Opinion of the Hagia Sophia conversion
Hagia Sophia, a popularized Istanbul museum, was recently converted into a mosque. For Ackerman, this particular represents a “great melting pot” of culture and history. He compares it to the cities of Paris, Rome, New York City, and even Houston! In other words, this museum represented the various spectrums of ideologies, and beliefs of various people. Ackerman says that to see it change into a mosque is a “repudiation” of this notion.
Power Struggles in Turkey
Ackerman and Maldonnado occasionally talk about the current struggles happening within the Turkish government. Ackerman argues that the current political leader has done an extremely effective job in purging his political components and changing the actual Turkish constitution in an effort to extend his power. By doing this, an autocracy is starting to form and solidify. His neo-Ottoman vision also seems to be a place of conflict for many current Turkish residents. The longer this autocracy stays, the more difficult it would be to overthrow it. A final interesting point of contention occurs with the religious aspect of the country. While the country is considered a secular state, 97% of its inhabitants are followers of the Islamic face.
To read this insightful novel and to get a glimpse into the world of Turkey, read Elliot Ackerman’s “Red Dress in Black and White: A Novel”, which can be found on Amazon and other book vendors. To see the interview conducted by Maryanne Maldonado and WAC Houston, visit our Youtube channel by clicking the link: