Monday, November 16, 2015

Delilah Dirk and Turkish Lieutenant

Delilah Dirk and Turkish Lieutenant
by Tony Cliff
Ages: 12+

The side-kick of the protagonist, in the book, is named Erdemoglu Selim, He works as a lieutenant in Turkish Janissary Corps, a person who loves quiet conversation (oxymoron-ish!) and tea. The name and army corps sounded interesting and made me look further into these from historical perspective. Who would be named Erdemoglu Selim? Salim is a common name, have you heard of a Selim(spelt differently) in India? It appears that Selim is a common name in Turkey and Egypt.  Similarly, Janissaries has an very interesting history. 

Do we need to worry about the historical accuracy if there is a swashbuckling hero, a timid and reluctant tea-making  sidekick with swords swishing, buildings crashing, shoot outs and flying boats? It does not matter, but surprisingly, there is quite a bit of history that one can gather if you look further into each character and location. There are many scenarios which are wildly inventive from historical perspective. The Ottoman Sultan around this time(1805) Selim III was considered reform minded, but the book does not name him and makes him sound like a bit of a sadist. There is a scene where the Jannissaries are made to fight for their monthly salary from a big pile of coins? The stronger the person, the more he can grab as his salary for the month!  This sequence again seem to have been added more to show what a sensitive soul our side-kick is. 

Tony Cliff, the author and illustrator, wonderfully switches the hard-ingrained gender roles of that century and shows a violence loving, swashbuckling,  woman who can defeat even a small pride of lions along with a side kick -  a man, who is sensitive, likes to play with kids and have long winded conversations. He efficiently switches the commonly accepted gender roles does not make it obvious. Within a few pages into the book, we get hooked to Delilah Dirk. 

There are some pages that makes one shout out in laughter. An old idiom goes - "a way to man's heart is through is stomach", Tony Cliff reverses that logic and ensures that the way to Delilah's heart is through a wonderful tea that Selim brews. The sequence of frames where this is depicted is done with a great humour and minor changes in Delilah's face(see the below image). There is similarly another unrelated sequence to the main story of a fisherman who wants to return back to his farm and prays for his boat to be destroyed. This ends rather disastrously for the fisherman, but I laughed out aloud and thought the author is cruel!.

The story starts with Selim, rather inventively, interrogating Delilah in the Turkish prison by providing her tea and biscuits. She decides to tell him her story and breaks out of the prison after that. The Sultan cannot believe a woman can ever be a world traveler, a great swordsman, a grand thief and everything else that only a man can ever be, only to be proven wrong when she breaks out of the prison. Selim get accused of helping her and almost gets beheaded only to be rescued by Delilah (A sir in distress!). And out of fear, obligation and grudgingly later out of friendship, Selim ends up traveling with her and they end up having riotous adventure as they travel around Europe. Pirates and fights abound.

If you are looking a grand adventure with lots of laughs thrown in, this is a great book. The fact that Delilah almost tears apart every gender stereotype is a secondary point to the marvellous adventure these two have. That is the beauty of this book.

There are more books on Delilah Dirk. For these check out Tony Cliff's website - Delilah Dirk

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