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A Tangle of Silk
[FINAL Edition]
The Washington Post - Washington, D.C.
Subjects: Novels; Books-titles -- Seven Houses
Author: Cahill, Kathleen
Date: Nov 13, 2002
Start Page: C.03
Section: STYLE

[Alev Lytle Croutier], a Turk now living in San Francisco and Paris, also succeeds with her Garcia Marquez-like evocations of an otherworldly connection. The women of the earlier generations operate on instinct and signs from the natural world. Spells are cast, prayers said to Allah and to the goddesses who preceded him in Anatolia. Candles are lit to the likes of Aesculapius, "the heathen healing god." An owl totem calls out danger. Portentously, a moth is arrested in the midst of metamorphosis and frozen in amber. A maidservant reads spider webs and senses the children's dreams. Esma, the distraught young widow at the heart of the novel, cries tear-shaped diamonds and weaves prayer rugs that open doorways into imaginary worlds. Hers is a world of kismet, a Turkish word, after all -- a world lived in houses suffused with memory. In the back garden of her house in Smyrna stands a myrrh tree with a split trunk from which Adonis was born.

It is the seven houses of the title -- the villas, flats and cottages in which the family dwells according to the vagaries of fate and fortune -- that narrate the novel. The technique is mostly unobtrusive. Less so is the author's occasional heavy-handedness with pop culture and historical figures, who pop up often enough to give the novel a "Zelig"-like feel. Isabel Allende, in a cover blurb, praises Croutier for "braiding history and fiction in an intricate pattern." But it is less intricate pattern than puzzling overlay. And unlike Allende's "House of the Spirits," another family saga with otherworldly overtones spanning four generations, Croutier's second novel at times suffers as a result.

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