Katherine Branning's compilation of letters to Lady Mary Wortley Montagu compares modern-day Turkey with the Turkey of yesteryear, bringing both worlds to life especially for the armchair traveler of today. Just exactly who is Lady Montagu, you may well ask. Living from 1689 to 1762, she was a great English poet, essayist and letter-writer. The daughter of the autocratic Evelyn Pierrepont, first Duke of Kingston, she eloped with Edward Wortley in 1712. When Edward was appointed ambassador to Turkey, she accompanied him there, where she wrote her Turkish Embassy Letters, which were published posthumously to immediate acclaim in 1763. The letters that Lady Montagu wrote were atypical travel writings of the day, describing the intimate details of life as led largely by Turkish women at the time.
Katherine Branning's writing covers most of the aspects of contemporary life in Turkey, but where she largely differs is that, unlike Lady Montagu, she has chosen to omit the scenes of horror and oppression that her predecessor so aptly described. Branning, despite writing three centuries later, has managed to sanitize Turkey, so that her letters read much more like a travelogue than they do an insightful foray into life as it is lived. She also manages to objectify the Turkish people in a way that clearly shows how essentially different they are to contemporary Americans. One has to bear in mind the difference in background between the two women--Katherine Branning is the Director of the French Institute Alliance Francaise in New York City and a graduate of the Ecole du Louvre in Paris, where she majored in Islamic arts, with a specialty in Islamic glass. As an independent researcher and glass artist, she has conducted annual field work relative to architecture and decorative arts in Turkey since 1978. Clearly, as an academic, she is much more used to giving an objective overview of places and events than was Lady Montagu, who tended towards romantic extremism, both in her writing and in her own lifestyle. It seems somewhat unfair, then, that Branning has been criticized for not putting more flesh on the bones (in a metaphorical sense, you understand) of those whom she describes.
However, with the world today being a far different place to what it was four centuries ago, it is, perhaps, not so surprising that readers have come to expect a great deal more from authors who choose to venture into so-called `foreign' lands. What would have been decried in Lady Montagu's day (which is, no doubt, why her letters were only published posthumously) is nowadays praised for being insightful and thought-provoking. It basically all comes down to what the reader wants, and expects, from those authors whose writings they choose to explore.
Yes, I Would Love Another Glass of Tea is worthwhile reading for those who have little knowledge of Turkey--with its multiple black-and-white photographs, on which Branning clearly prides herself, and its coverage of numerous topics relating to Turkey the work provides a useful overview of the country and its people. Clearly, Branning is well-intentioned and appreciative of the culture concerned, but her writing needs to be much more multidimensional to bring it fully to life. [Reviewer for BookPleasures.com]