People ask me, “What possessed a Midwestern born, longtime Central Jersey transplant to devote a decade traveling to and writing a memoir about Turkey?” The short answer: Because Turkey captivated me with its diversity, beauty, culture, and history.

I was in Istanbul the day after the 1999 earthquake. I was staying in a hotel in historic Sultanahmet and joined the crowds setting up camp between the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia. Fear swirled in the air. The ground moved unsteadily beneath us. People caught one another’s eyes with a mix of fatalism, humor, and a deep will to survive.

During that time, I gave a series of talks on religions of the world at Barnes & Noble in MarketFair. Following a talk called “What is Islam?”, I befriended a group of women from the Masjid Mosque of Central Jersey. After September 11, 2001, I spent time with them, some of whom were Turkish. Their fear was that they, their families, and their children would be marginalized.

Those conversations inspired me to keep writing.

“Anatolian Days & Nights” is co-written with Angie Brenner, who lives in San Diego. Like me, Angie has been asked: “Why are you traveling to a Muslim country?”

“You mean a secular Muslim Republic,” we reply.

Turkish hospitality has sheltered and protected us in the smallest villages as well as the chicest Istanbul apartments. At times we have thought that maybe it would be better not to change anyone’s mind, that we should keep beautiful and complicated Turkey to ourselves. But that would be a betrayal.

Editor’s note: Stocke will discuss and read from their recently published work Thursday, April 5, at 6 p.m. at Labyrinth Books, 122 Nassau Street.

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