The Towers of Trebizond (1956)

by Rose Macaulay

The Towers of Trebizond is a quirky book. It is as much a travelogue as a novel. There is a good amount of autobiography in this work of fiction. It is both entertaining and serious, funny and tragic.

The first-person narrator, Laurie, accompanies her (he? we never learn the narrator’s gender for sure) eccentric Aunt Dot and a High-Church Anglican priest to Turkey in the 1950s to liberate women and convert Muslims. Laurie intends to write a travel book and virtually does so within The Towers of Trebizond; readers who want to visit the Middle East but fear to go today can learn about the ancient sites for pages upon pages. But Laurie has another interest that gets equal play: her (his?) estrangement from religion because of an adulterous affair that she (he?) knows is wrong but is unwilling to renounce.

The tone is droll, but even with passages that are hilarious (particularly involving Aunt Dot’s “crazy” camel), there is an undercurrent of sadness, and a genuine tragedy occurs at the end.

It is generally thought that Macaulay based Laurie on herself in this first novel, regarded as her best. Among her other writings, Macaulay wrote travel books. She had a had a long affair with a married man and did not return to the Anglican Church until after his death.



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