The Circassian Storyteller

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The summer I turned thirteen, in the sticky humidity of a Circassian town in northern Turkey, I received two gifts. “Leave that book aside for a minute,” my grandfather said, walking into the living room with a leather case. I don’t remember what the book was, really. It could’ve been the fourth book in the Percy Jackson series, which was a favorite at the time, or it could have been Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment--I was ambitious that summer, determined to nose my way into the adults’ world of sophistication. I always wanted more words, more worlds, more stories. Nothing was ever enough.

The gifts were the following: my grandfather’s majestic old mizika, a Circassian accordion, and an accompanying book of Circassian melodies and lyrics. In our tribe, we call songs stories -- or songs stories; really, what difference does it make when they are one and the same? What he was really handing me was a storybook and its instrument, its voice, its medium. Stories. More stories. Old ones, those that I already knew by heart, but also those I had never heard before, that spoke of ancient histories. I felt special -- chosen to be a storyteller of the Circassian culture.

“Why?” I asked. Why the half-Turkish granddaughter, the elusive...

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