byAlev Lytle Croutier. Abbeville, $35.00. The author is of Turkish origin and during her childhood heard many stories of life behind the no-longer-legal veil from senior female relatives. When she later became curious about actual harem conditions, she found reliable evidence limited. Harem inmates, it appears, wrote rarely if at all before this century. Ms. Croutier has been obliged to rely for the most part on reports from women like Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, who described what she had seen, or from male travelers who necessarily wrote from hearsay and often from lubricious fancy. Despite the paucity of documentation about the past, Ms. Croutier has produced an interesting book. She covers Turkish history, recollections by her family members, her own juvenile encounter with a professional matchmaker, correct Muslim etiquette, and the importance of coffee-making. She proceeds to intelligent speculation on the social and psychological influences that led the Turks to adopt the harem system (she denies that they invented it) and the use made by European artists of what amounts to a harem myth. The text is generously illustrated— Ms. Croutier has studied art history, among other subjects—but almost all the paintings reproduced are by European men, who found the harem a fine excuse for combining brilliant colors, luxurious fabrics, and female nudity. The book is, all in all, a medley of information about the lives of Turkish women, from those in the Sultan’s palace to those in rural villages, all of it held together by the author’s feminist principles, which are firmly, though not rancorously, stated.