“We’re on the run. Barreling south in a white car at a hundred and forty kilometers an hour. I’m in the back. On my left a woman with a yellow wig aslant on her head, as still as stone. On my right a bald woman wearing a white headscarf, her leg bouncing up and down. An elderly one-eyed man is at the wheel. An old grey-haired woman dressed in lilac silk is riding shotgun with her face to the wind, without a care in the world.

The bald woman says, “Where are we going?”

The old woman, “South.”

Angry, the bald woman digs in:

“Just how far south?”

The old woman replies:

“Way down south.”

Not long ago I was about to make my way back to Istanbul. Now I’m on the brink of the most terrifying and wonderful trip I’ve ever taken. I remember how it all began and to this day I still have a hard time believing it ever really happened.”


Temelkuran, an outspoken truth-teller whose fearless reportage has jeopardised both her livelihood and security in Turkey, flings together a quartet of ill-assorted travellers — one of whom resembles the author. She whisks them around the crisis zones of the eastern Mediterranean just as revolutions flare and tyrants tumble. Our four heroines, ‘fated to take refuge in a story’, zigzag from Tunisia after its dictator’s fall to Libya during Gaddafi’s endgame, to Egypt as the Tahrir Square protests erupt, then across the sea to a showdown in Lebanon.

Madam Lilla, the former Cairo courtesan and spy-mistress who leads the pack, seeks a passage to Beirut to confront the suave swine who betrayed her. Both Amira, the Tunisian dancer and blogger-activist, and Maryam, the melancholy Egyptian academic obsessed with Dido, Queen of Carthage, have secrets to reveal and missions to fulfil. As has our runaway storyteller. In part a shrewd satire on the ideals and illusions of the Arab Spring (‘You have lost yourselves in an Al Jazeera drama’), in part a picaresque girls-together adventure, in part a female-first upending of Middle Eastern myths from Dido herself to the smugly macho ‘poet leader’ of anti-Gaddafi rebels, the narrative lurches, bumps and meanders like some Western Desert track.

It’s diffuse, digressive and sometimes pretty silly. Still, Temelkuran has zest, and heart, and guts, to spare. In her sights, the region’s sacred cows go down like fairground ducks, from besuited Islamists and NGO careerists to slick correspondents for CNN. The translator Alexander Dawe deserves a shout on many counts — not least for capturing the effect of one such glossy hack trying out her ‘American-accented classical Arabic’ in the Libyan maelstrom: ‘From what I have gleaned from the women innkeepers, you are indeed an esteemed personality…’ Give this gang a spin.

Boyd Tonkin, The Spectator


“Ece Temelkuran’s second novel is like firework. It is the book where the Twitter and the A thousand and one nights fairytales meet.”

Proffessor Hannes Kraus, KulturWest, 2014

“Women Who Blow On knots is an extremely inspiring novel and it is the the resistance of an independent intellectual”

Jean Baptiste Hamelin, Pages des Libraries, 2016

“A loving, feminist and fairytale-like ‘partners in crime’ novel which is a breathtaking thriller at the same time.”

Le Progres Social, France

“The novel seems like a fairytale but actually it is also a first class geopolitical analysis of today’s world.”

L’Alsace, Switzerland

“Ece Temelkuran has ten thousands eyes to look at the world.”

Sabit Fikir, Literary Magazine