Dawn Powell: The Golden Spur

The latest addition to my website is Dawn Powell‘s The Golden Spur. This is another very witty novel from Powell – her final novel – set, of course in New York (in 1955), centred around a watering hole (the eponymous Golden Spur) and about a naive young man – Jonathan Jaimison – from the provinces (Ohio). His mother (now dead) had spent some time in New York more than twenty-five years ago, as a typist for various writers, and he has just learned from his aunt, his mother’s sister, that his mother returned from New York to marry Jonathan’s father, already pregnant. Jonathan’s mission in New York is to try and find his biological father. He soon has several candidates, based both on his mother’s friends but also his own preferences for a father. We follow his time in New York, his search for a father and his effect, invariably positive, on the various people he meets.

Pola Oloixarac: Las constelaciones oscuras (Dark Constellations)

The latest addition to my website is Pola Oloixarac‘s Las constelaciones oscuras (Dark Constellations). This novel tells the story of stunning scientific discoveries and inventions, in the field of botany, genetics and information technology, from 1882 to some time in the not too distant future. In all cases, the discoveries/inventions lead to a new way of looking at the world. In the present/near future, we follow Cassio, a top hacker who is involved in a project which allows governments in Latin America to track all individuals purely on the basis of their genetic imprint, a dangerous invention which Cassio finally realises. Oloixarac enthuses about these technological and scientific changes that she describe, while being less ready to point their harmful effects. Despite that, this really is an original and innovative novel.

Diamela Eltit: Vaca sagrada (Sacred Cow)

The latest addition to my website is Diamela Eltit‘s Vaca sagrada (Sacred Cow). This is a feminist, post-modern novel by a Chilean writer who stayed in Chile during the Pinochet regime. She tells the story of a woman who has two messy, violent relationships, with violence on both sides, showing indirectly, in the relationships, the violence that is going on in Chile under Pinochet. The unnamed and unreliable narrator, who may be also the same person as Francisca, a woman we first meet when bloody and bruised, struggles with life, with alcohol, with men, with getting a job and with sex. She feels totally insecure, unsure, ready to tell lies for no reason, and ready to get involved in messy relationships but finding them no escape. It is not an easy read but Eltit is clearly intent on showing women’s bodies as the battleground in what is going on in Chile and that is what she does.

Olga Grjasnowa: Gott ist nicht schüchtern (City of Jasmine)

The latest addition to my website is Olga Grjasnowa‘s Gott ist nicht schüchtern (City of Jasmine). Grjasnowa is an Azerbaijan-born German national, married to a Syrian. This novel primarily takes place during the recent Syrian Civil War. We follow the fate of three Syrians caught up in it. Hammoudi has studied medicine in Paris and briefly returned to Syria to visit his family and renew his passport. However, though his passport is renewed, he is not allowed to leave the country. Amal is the daughter of a rich man, who is studying drama. She is also demonstrating against the repression by the Assad Regime. She meets Youssef, a young director. Amal and Youssef both get arrested and later leave the country, though their troubles are far from over. Hammoudi works as a doctor in his home town of Deir ez-Zor, while under heavy attack from both the Syrian army and Isis, before escaping to Turkey and also having further problems as a refugee. It is a thoroughly grim novel but interesting to see the crisis from the perspective of the ordinary Syrian trying to survive.

Guzel Yakhina: Зулейха открывает глаза (Zuleikha)

The latest addition to my website is Guzel Yakhina‘s Зулейха открывает глаза (Zuleikha). Zuleikha is a Tatar woman, married to an abusive husband, in the late 1920s. Her husband is determined that the Soviets will not have any of his food and he hides. When he is caught and objects, he is shot on the spot. Zuleikha and many other villagers are then sent off to Siberia as former kulaks. The journey is hard, not least because there is a huge backlog of kulaks and other undesirables being sent off to Siberia and they are delayed on their train journey. It is made harder when Zuleikha realises she is pregnant – her husband raped her the night before his death. She has already lost four daughters, all of whom died young, and she is determined to protect her first son. We follow the story of the prisoners, the commandant and, in particular, Zuleikha, from around 1930 to the end of World War II. As the Russian title (Zuleikha Opens Her Eyes) tells us, a good part (but certainly not the only part) is about how Zuleikha develops from being a submissive Muslim woman and abused wife to being someone more independent. Yakhina tells an excellent tale of life in a Siberian camp and of a woman who finds herself there.

Elif Shafak: Baba ve Piç (The Bastard of Istanbul)

The latest addition to my website is Elif Shafak‘s Baba ve Piç (The Bastard of Istanbul). This book tells the story of two families, one a Turkish family living in Istanbul and the other an Armenian family, living in the US, with most of their ancestors having been killed in the Armenian Genocide. Both families are dominated by women. Indeed, the Turkish one consists of four sisters, only one of whom, the youngest, has a child, a daughter, Aysa. We do not learn who her father is till the end of the book. The sisters had one brother, Mustafa, who emigrated to the United States and never returned. He married a divorced woman, Rose. Her ex-husband, who never remarried, is part of the Armenian family and their daughter Armanoush/Amy is very much involved in discussions of things Armenian, particularly the Genocide. Indeed, unbeknown to her family, she heads off to Istanbul, to try and track down her roots, staying with Aysa’s family. We learn that the Turks are almost completely ignorant of the Armenian Genocide, something the Armenians discuss all the time. Aysa and Amy, the younger generation, try to bring the two sides together and this issue is the key theme of the book. Indeed, Shafak was prosecuted for insulting Turkishness in this book because of her relatively sympathetic view of the Genocide.

Oya Baydar: Kayıp Söz (The Lost Word)

The latest addition to my website is Oya Baydar‘s Kayıp Söz (The Lost Word). This is a superb novel about a famous Turkish writer, Ömer Eren, who has lost his word, i.e. has writer’s block. We follow his attempt to deal with this, when, at Ankara bus station, he meets a Kurdish couple, The wife has been accidentality shot by carousing soldiers and he not only helps them but later heads out to the Kurdish part of the country to find out what is really going on in that part of the world. Meanwhile, his wife, a successful scientist, is trying to reconnect with their son, Deniz, who has fled Turkey to live on a remote island off the coast of Norway. On a visit to Turkey his Norwegian wife is killed by a suicide bomber and he has retreated even more into himself, living only for their young son. The whole issue of responsibility and how best to live one’s life, as well as the issue of violence to deal with political problems are just two of the many ideas Baydar confronts in this book and she tells a superb story as well.

Aslı Erdoğan: Kırmızı Pelerinli Kent (The City in Crimson Cloak)

The latest addition to my website is Aslı Erdoğan‘s Kırmızı Pelerinli Kent (The City in Crimson Cloak). This novel is set entirely in Rio de Janeiro and tells the story of a Turkish woman, Özgur, who has been living there for two years. She hates the city, the squalor, the violence, the drugs, the heat and humidity. She is broke, depressed and lonely. However, she is determined to stay there till she has, as she says, written the city. She is writing a novel called The City in Crimson Cloak, a quasi-autobiographical novel about a woman called Ö, whose story is similar to hers, but somewhat enhanced. We follow her on day in which she wanders round the city, seeing its horrors and bemoaning her fate. The day does not end well.

Bilge Karasu: Gece (Night)

The latest addition to my website is Bilge Karasu‘s Gece (Night), a blistering post-modern, Kafkaesque parable which could be Turkey but also could be any other police state. There are essentially three things going on. The first is the night workers, symbolically representing the secret police, who come out at night and randomly arrest, torture and kill the citizens. The second concerns a man known only as N who is followed and then set up by three secret police agents (two of whom knew him as a child). Finally, the author intervenes, telling us what she is doing but also telling us that she and the others are unreliable narrators, all of which adds to the Kafkaesque dystopian effect. It is grim, it is post-modern but it certainly conveys the horrors of contemporary Turkey.