Red Dress in Black & White
Elliot Ackerman
Alfred A. Knopf 2020

Former Marine Elliot Ackerman, who lived a swath of time in Turkey, offers us his new novel, “Red Dress in Black and White,” which focuses on that country’s political upheaval, in particular the 2013 Gezi Park demonstration that left many protestors dead and thousands imprisoned.  

His entire novel amazingly unfolds in only a single day when an American woman, Catharine, struggles against attempts by her Turkish husband, Murat, to thwart her plan to leave Istanbul with their nine-year-old son and return to the USA. Through skillful placement of flashbacks, Ackerman creates a suspense-laced story of politics and cultural intrigue.

Catharine met Murat while he was studying architecture in the U.S. Subsequently, he returns to Turkey to take over his family’s booming construction business. Murat is financially successful, but in this time period, Turkey is experiencing a financial downturn due to politically tinged lending practices. Some buildings were left unfinished, while at the same time the government was partnering to build new structures. The actual event depicted in the book, the Gezi Park riot in Istanbul, was ignited when the government planned construction in this small urban green space.

… the complex but unique plot merge to make this novel a captivating book.

But Murat’s contracts came with a price. He’s entangled with the U.S. embassy through a woman named Kristin, who offers to help him in return for information. Kristin is also instrumental in encouraging a relationship between Catharine and Peter, a photographer who has been given a generous USA grant. Kirstin explains the grant terms: “The recipient will collaborate with the consulate to advance relations between the United States and the host country…” These characters are all individually involved in the drama of Catharine’s plan to exit Turkey.

Key to the plot are events leading up to the Gezi protest and how Peter finds himself in the middle. Ackerman’s vivid descriptions of life in Istanbul, his character development and the complex but unique plot merge to make this novel a captivating book.