Enlightenment
by Maureen Freely


The Overlook Press, 2008. ISBN 978-1-590-20074-2.
Reviewed by Jennifer Melville
Posted on 07/03/2008

Fiction: Mystery; Fiction: Mainstream

Maureen Freely's Enlightenment is a complicated tale of lies, loyalties, and life that begins in 2005 when American ex-patriot Jeannie Wakefield's husband Sinan is arrested for terrorist links at JFK International Airport and her five-year-old son Emre is whisked away to foster care. Jeannie begs an investigative journalist known only as M to help her tell her story to the world and get her husband and son back. How far will M go to write the story of a suspected terrorist's wife, a woman who not only stole her one true love but also whose tale may put her own life at risk as well?

Enlightenment has its roots in the 1970s in Istanbul, Turkey, and, through the letters and diaries of Jeannie Wakefield, takes the reader through several decades of political turmoil and character growth. Although the characters are imaginary, Freely meticulously follows historical events and cites real news articles. This makes her novel so realistic I questioned whether or not it was truly fiction. Several themes run strong through her novel: communism and the fear of its spread, the complicated international relations between the US, Turkey, and the Soviet Union, political freedom and the lack thereof, and the events of the 1970s that left the Middle East a very dangerous place to be an American.

Freely's characters are complex and realistic. Their thoughts, beliefs, desires, and ambitions are well laid out, and her work is deeply detailed. There are several interesting plots occurring at once, and it is interesting to read Jeannie's diary to discover how her life choices and those of her closest friends have led her to where she is today.

Enlightenment asks the reader to consider the state of post 9-11 America. "I ask all decent men and women in this court why they have condoned such vicious and illegal measures against my family," writes Sinan from his jail cell, where he is being held without trial. The lack of political freedom in Turkey is well laid out in this book, but what political freedoms are being denied in the United States as well? Freely carefully compares the communist-phobia of the 1970s to the Islam-phobia of our modern world.

I enjoyed this book very much. Freely's characters are memorable, her story lines are intriguing, and the final result is thoroughly thought provoking. The ending is sure to shock you. How far would you go to tell the truth if you knew it could kill you?


Maureen Freely is an American author, freelance journalist, translator and teacher who was born in New Jersey and raised in Turkey. She graduated from Harvard University. Today she lives in England and lectures at the University of Warwick.

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