Reader reviews

Apologies for the fonts bein aa ower the place. Cannae seem tae dae onythin wi the editin pane.
Rab Wilson, in Lallans (80, Simmer 2012): "a vera important an aiblins laundmerk buik ... best novel scrievit in Scots in raicent times ... ... a gleg, virrfu an clear-heidit veesion o a dystopian future that in some respecks cuid be aa too real. ... ... muives alang at a crackin pace an aye-an-oan haes ye thinkin that aspecks o the story cuid indeed becam a reality. ... ... But the clevir thing here is Wulf's byordnar uise o the Scots leid ... as a tool / device tae ... help us identify modren an auncient threids that rin throu the story ... ... there are twa / three different stories gaun oan that, at the hinnerend, aa mell thegither tae produce a vera compellin an thocht-provokin endin tae the buik. ... Ah luik forrit tae either a sequel ... else mair frae the pen o Wulf Kurtoglu?"
'Scots Anorak', August 2012. There a lang an weel conseedert review o the Scots version o the novel at The Blether Region. Ah verra much appreciate the reviewer’s in-depth readin an frank creeticism – Ah tak maist o yer pynts, Scots Anorak, an Ah’ll haud thaim in mind if there ever a sequel. Ah feel Ah sud come back, though, aboot some o the poleetical poseetions the review ascribes tae the novel, an that Ah think are raither in the eye of the beholder. The blog disnae alloo comments, sae Ah’ll mak ma pynts here. But first, the review itsel.

In masterful Scots, Wulf Kurtoğlu's Braken Fences describes a dystopian future where the world is partitioned between the "rational" west and the failed, impoverished states of Islamic fundamentalists. It's an epic tale with believable characters and the thoughtful treatment of moral issues that we expect from the best science fiction.
That said, I have several issues with the book's premise, chief among them the question of what rationality actually is. Part of it is logical consistency, and in the case of western states that identify with human rights and democracy, that means avoiding double standards. If we value individual human rights but adopt a group-rights approach in a key conflict, that's a kind of irrationality. The same goes for an attachment to self-determination except when it comes to independence from big, important countries. Muslims notice these double standards.
Moreover, I'd suggest that people also have a hierarchy of political goals, with most — perhaps even most feminists in Palestine or Kashmir — putting national self-determination before women's rights. What's beyond debate is that liberal attitudes in individual societies closely correlate with their wealth. As was recently pointed out to Mitt Romney, it's hard to be a wealth-creator when you have to wait all day at the checkpoint.
Of course, one can also interpret rationality as secularism, but doing so admits the possibility that the divide between "rational" and "fundamentalist" will not dovetail so neatly with that between Christians and Muslims. Littoral America might be in the "rational world", but what about the rather larger bit in the middle, the America of The Handmaid's Tale? Would Lowland Scotland's Presbyterian colonies in the Hebrides and north-east Ulster get into the RW? Likewise, the secular Ashkenazim of gay-friendly Tel Aviv might feel rather more comfortable enjoying a pint with a Bosnian Muslim, or indeed a Scots one, than spending time with the ultra-orthodox of Jerusalem.
Overall, the notion of a neat division of the world into good and bad guys is a little too neat, owing rather too much to the anti-intellectual, Manichaean nature of discourse in the America of the culture wars. We would never attempt it at home. But, of course, home is a place whose shades of grey we actually know.
Wisely or luckily, Kurtoğlu avoids full-on politics and concentrates on characters. Furthermore, the book neatly succeeds in underlining that it is about fundamentalism rather than race through its majority-Asian cast, including its half-Indian heroine, Beatrice Varshini, whose heritage may or may not be a nod to the rational/irrational partition of India. In one or two places the character of Bill Henderson provides the focus for some un-PC thoughts, but the novel leaves us in no doubt as to what we are supposed to think of that. Predictable emphasis is given to borders and their policing, but also, through the novel's concern for Tibetan refugees, to their inherent injustice at an individual level. Young westerners do "rational service" to protect those borders. This is of course a pun on "national service" for those who remember that, but I'm afraid it reminded me for all the world of the IDF.
Life in the fundamentalist zone is short and brutal, and some of the women there have been forced to disguise themselves as men to avoid persecution, thus providing a symbolic parallel to the ditching of empathy that typifies the once-liberal neo-cons to whom the novel presumably speaks. Furthermore, they make use of what in a nice poetic touch is called "The Ceety o Weemen", a contraceptive plant, for at least some the female half of the FZ has decided to stop procreating and thus halt the cycle of male Islamic fundamentalist oppression. This plan is described as collective suicide. I'm not sure that it is, but it does establish a linkage: stop the gene to kill the meme. But what about those immigrants in the real world who bring their own genes and memes with them? In the west, it is the indigenous or assimilated who use contraception. No western woman wants to have 20 children, after all. But unassimilated immigrants have a higher birth rate. Will liberal westerners, as a certain grocer's daughter once famously said, end up being "swamped"? This theme is expanded upon in the subplot about the resurrected Neanderthals, whose intermarriage with homo sapiens will for genetic reasons result in their extinction. Is there a parallel here with western multiculturalism? Only the reader can decide.
The Neanderthals bring me to what I felt was the novel's main failing. There is just too much going on. The book seems weighed down by its philosophical concerns, starting with the three lengthy quotations on the first page. I also felt that there were too many minor characters. In some cases their reappearance in the action, or the news that they had passed on, necessitated flicking back to check. Given the fact that perhaps only one in 20 of the Scottish population could nowadays wheech through the Scots version, that seems an indulgence.
Linguistically, as one would expect from one of the very greatest Scots academics of her generation, Braken Fences is a masterpiece of accessible yet full-bodied Scots. As in Philip Robinson's reverse-kailyard works, there is sometimes English dialogue and Scots description, but any Scots novel nowadays is bound to be experimental. The language's full range is also deployed stylistically, with the Neanderthals speaking an Insular dialect. Given the popular associations of the word "Neanderthal", that could of course cause offence, but the novel incorporates the most recent scientific beliefs that they were much more intelligent than previously thought. Complaints about verisimilitude with regard to the speech of Shetland in a science-fiction context seem to me bizarre.
I agree with other reviewers that this is an important book, and a further step in the normalisation of the language. It deserves to be read and argued about, and I hope that this review will make people go out and buy it. I also look forward to more from its author, who has already done much for Scots, and has much to offer in future.

As Ah sayed, Ah think some o the poleetical pynts are raither in the eye o the beholder.

There a wey o thinkin that blames aathin that gaes on in the Muslim warld on the Palestinian seetuation. Ah dinna subscribe tae that wey o thinkin, sae Ah was bumbaized at first by the reviewer bringin Palestine intil’t (there nae mention aither o Palestine nor the Middle East in the novel) alang o Maggie Thatcher, Mitt Romney an American neo-cons (wtf?). But thinkin it ower, Ah see whaur ony creeticism o Islam can be tane as reflectin badly on the Palestinians, which wad be a major riddie tae yin wey o thinkin. An certes the novel is concairnt wi the spreid o fundamentalism in yince moderate Muslim kintras, the likes o Xinjiang, an especially wi the implications o that for Muslim weemen.

Gin the novel relates tae ony real-warld poleetical seetuation, it’s no the parteetion o the Ottoman Empire, but, as the reviewer recognises in fack, the Parteetion o India. The settin is really juist the Parteetion o India on a global scale.

Ah think it’s a bittie unfair, an aa, tae describe the novel’s settin as “a neat division of the world into good and bad guys”. There no muckle tae recommend the Fundamentalist Zone (unless o coorse, ye’re a fundamentalist), but the Rational Warld as Ah pent it is faur fae perfeck naither. Besieged as it is, the RW maks siccar its population is kep in line. The saft totalitarianism Ah imagine there is based on the tradeetional parochial seestem o the kirk or the Pairty seestem o Chinese Communism.
Which brings me tae my final pynt in the novel’s defence. The warld Ah imagine isnae parteetioned atween “the ‘rational’ west” an the lave. Ah howped Ah’d made it clear that the drivin force ahint the creation o the RW, an the dominant pooer maintainin it, is a coalition o India an China. The Wast is gey marginal. Leukin in ma crystal baa, whit Ah saw (tho Ah dinna spell this oot in the novel) wis the Wast in decline, nae langer believin in nor willin tae staun up for its inheritit values o Jewish indiveedualism, Roman law, Christian charity, an Enlightenment rationalism. But the Wast is no the warld. Some at least o thir values – an certes the legal an scientific achievements o the Wast – can juist as weill be carriet furrat by the mair robust an self-confident cultures o India an China. (Ah wad, of coorse, be delightit tae be proven wrang aboot the vitality o wastren culture, but we'll nane o us be here tae see it ...)
George Watt on Facebook: Started reading ... 'Braken Fences' set sometime in the no so faur futur, and what a great read it is anaa. A new buik screived in Scots and a richt thriller it is tae. A can hairdly pit it doun. ... Hoo it's aa gaein tae feinish a dinna ken, mibbies thay'r aa murthert, but A bet it's guid. Ae cliffhaunger mibbie wi ae follae up? Onywey, A recommend this buik richt hertily an gin ye'v nae got a copy aareadies, noos the time tae get ain.

An noo that he’s feenished it:

whit a fantastic buik! Haein feinished it last nicht A can tell ye it hauds ye richt up tae the final wurd. A graund yarn, it skelps alang at a bonny pace, a guid endin wi aathin tied up richt but maist important avaa, the characters are aa psychologically sound. Thay are believable an so is the story line, aamaist frichtenly so. A divnae want tae gae ocht awaa, but the scenario o somewhaur no aa that faur intae the futur, wuid mak a ower sensitive biddie gey feart o forrard thou ye cannae see! A’m nae a fest reader, A divnae sclim ower the page unless A’m bored wi it, an michty, hoo A wis pued intae this ain een tae the pynt o believing the science o Neanderthals an mammoths! And o course, the Scots is excellent. Thoroughly recommended an weel duin Caroline, A’m amazed at yer depth o talent fur novel screivin. Can ye follae it up?
Catherine Nelson on Facebook: Wulf Kurtoglu’s Braken Fences/Broken Fences (depending on whether you read the Scots or the English version – give yourself a treat and buy both) is one of the best stories I’ve encountered in a long time. It’s set in a not-too-distant future that probably most of us hope will not come about, a world slowly and imaginatively revealed as the story of a few people over a few years unfolds in sometimes very unfriendly territory. Family, love, honor, commitment, identity, struggle, patience – it has them all. I read it in one sitting. My wish for you, dear reader, is that you enjoy it similarly.

Chris Robinson on Lulu says, “Whitna braw read! A richt page-turner but thochtie tae. Guid tae hae anither heich-quality novel in sic fine Scots.”

Sheena Blackhall (personal communication) says, “The linguistics are very skilfully handled. This book has been published in both English and Scots. I read it in Scots and found the Scots easy to read with no need for a glossary. ... It makes use of  myths and archetytpes and is a stunning insight into the human condition, and the interwoven lives of the protagonists, leading to a very surprising conclusion. Altogether, it makes compulsive reading.”

Stephen Hamilton on Facebook says, “Thank you for writing a book that is original, engrossing and lyrical. Folks, get it in Scots or in English, but get it if you have any interest in future fiction!”

Seumas Simpson (personal communication) says, I had been meaning to email you to say how fascinating I find Braken Fences. It is interesting on various levels: the language, of course; the concept of the fundamentalists and the rationalists dividing the earth; the Neanderthals; the picture of the roof of the world; and the story itself. I am enjoying it hugely ... I congratulate Mr Kurtoğlu.

Bethia Rayne reviewed the English version on Amazon:
"Broken Fences reminds me a lot of the writing of Margaret Atwood. When you pick it up you think science fiction, when you put it down you realise what a lot it tells us about the past and a possible future, which may happen quite easily, there is nothing too far fetched here. Well researched with a good knowledge of science and current politics; it paints a world you are quite sure you would rather not live in given a choice but with still an opportunity to escape to a time before belief systems be they science based or spiritual took over the knowledge contained in human beings from our beginnings on earth, our emotions and our instincts. I would recommend this to the reader who likes an intelligent read, different from the norm but which also has romance, adventure and a very considered and realistic answer to an age old mystery."

Catherine Nelson on Facebook says, "Wulf, I've had both printed versions for months but started reading only this afternoon. Seven pages in, and I'm hooked on a good story and having a great good time reading it in parallel. I know a good yarn when I pick one up. I manage working my way through the Scots and so am particularly grateful for the English translation when I can not quite get it."

If ye enjoy the beuk, ony halp wi publeecity wad be really valuable an gritly appreciatit.

Whit ye can dae:
Rate the beuk at lulu
(search be title).
and on Amazon.
Screive a review. 
Some o ye will can review for leeterary or linguistic magazines or journals. Forbye, onybody can post their ain reviews at thir reader review sites:
Some sites (includin lulu) mak ye register tae yaise thaim, but it juist taks a meenit.
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Nou hark, sirris, there is nae mair adae,
wha list attend, gies audience, and draw near. (Gavin Douglas)

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