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Category Archive for 'T – Uk'

When I finished reading Arid Dreams, the first of Thai author Duanwad Pimwana’s story collections ever to be translated into English, I was so stunned that I had to wait a day before even beginning this review. To say it is a powerful and dramatic collection of thirteen short stories so understates the collection’s ability to affect the reader emotionally that it would be unfair to characterize it in such a limited fashion. Vibrant characters, intense interactions, and beautifully controlled themes feature in realistic stories about the daily lives of the hard working poor and those who have dreams but little or no opportunity to act upon them. Cultural expectations play a big part in the conflicts and disasters which some of the characters face, and though these may be shocking to American readers, they are taken for granted by the characters themselves. As the reader becomes more and more deeply involved with these stories, which show people both as individuals and as members of a broader society, it is impossible not to care about them and how they live, doing what they must do to survive. A collection which is truly unforgettable.

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Ahmet Altan, Turkish journalist and author of nine novels, was WINNER of the Prize for the Freedom and Future of the Media from the Sparkasse Leipzig in 2009. In 2011, he was AWARDED the international Hrant Dink Award. He is currently jailed for criticizing the government of Turkey. In his first novel to be translated into English, author/journalist Ahmet Altan sets his novel in a small, unnamed town in rural Turkey to which an unnamed Turkish author has gone to retire and work on a new book. In the first two pages of this book, however, the reader learns that the author himself has committed a murder. What follows is a novel which is both clever and exasperating, as the main character inserts himself into the life of a small town with long-standing rivalries and intrigues and becomes, himself, a part of the frenzied action and reaction to slights and betrayals, both real and imagined. As the novel opens, the author is sitting outside, apparently in the final hours of his life, waiting to be apprehended for murdering a resident and contemplating the meaning of life and his responsibility for his own actions – an irony, since he also believes his predicament to be “God’s work.” God, after all, “has a savage sense of humour. And coincidence is his favorite joke.”

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Originally published in Turkey in 1943, Sabahattin Ali’s novel Madonna in a Fur Coat remains an enduring legacy, reflecting many of his beliefs regarding the role of women within an unusual love story. A new 2013 edition of this book, seventy years after its original printing, has been “Turkey’s best-selling novel for the past three years,” according to the New York Journal of Books, this despite (or perhaps because of) current Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s push to reestablish traditional gender roles within the country. In 1941, the unnamed narrator of the novel, quoted at the beginning of the review, is asked by Raif Efendi, a man he has come to know from his employment, to go to his house to retrieve a notebook in which he wrote intimately about his romantic life for ten years, now long past. The last passage in the journal, dated June 1933, conveys Efendi’s highly emotional state of mind: “I cannot go on with all this locked up inside me. There are so many things – that I need to say…but to whom? Can there be another soul wandering this great globe who is as lonely as I? Who would hear me out? Where would I begin?” Efendi’s eventual choice of this narrator to secure the notebook for him shows his absolute – and belated – trust in the narrator as a confidante since he feels that “all this locked up inside me” cannot be shared with his wife and daughter. Forthright and realistic regarding social issues, despite the overarching romantic story, the 1940s style feels a bit old-fashioned, but the themes could not be more current.

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The author of eight previous novels, many of which have been nominated for international prizes, Abdulrazak Gurnah, from Zanzibar, specializes in novels which reflect a sense of alienation and loss as a person living, first, under the British colonial rule of his country, then later living under Zanzibar’s revolutionary rule after a coup following independence, and finally living in Britain itself. His characters often reflect similar dislocations, growing up and living without the pride one expects for the place where they grew up or much sense of belonging elsewhere within the world order. Sometimes at a loss and uncertain what will happen next politically, they may be unsure of how to go about traversing the multitude of competing influences on their lives and on the people they love. In this novel Gurnah examines these feelings through the life of Salim, a young man whose early childhood is upended when his father inexplicably leaves his mother and the home Salim thought was happy, and moves elsewhere, while his mother begins to spend time with another man. Salim’s alienation becomes more complicated as time passes. Gradually, the contrast between the life Salim thought he was living and life as it has become emerges more clearly. His father, who used to be a clerk for the Water Authority finds work in a market stall or just sits in his room after the separation. When real life at home becomes far more complicated for Salim, he readily accepts his uncle Amir’s offer of a chance to attend school in London, the place he lives for the next seven years, one which is not home, though Zanzibar no longer is home, either. Straightforward, honest, and filled with observations about alienation and the need for belonging.

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In the Strandja Mountains, where Bulgaria, Turkey, and Greece come together, a young graduate student, who left Bulgaria for the United States as a boy, reconnects with his grandfather, from whom the family has heard nothing for the past three years. Unsuccessful in his college studies and desperately in need of funds to pay off some loans, the youth has come to Klisura in southeast Bulgaria hoping to sell some family land and also to spend time with the grandfather he has not seen in fifteen years. Written by debut novelist Miroslav Penkov, who lived in Bulgaria until he was nineteen, the narrative breathes with the kind of exuberant realism which distinguishes the writing of someone who has actually lived through certain events, as opposed to the writing of someone who is “writing about” events which he may have observed but not fully lived. Specific, often charming, detail accompanies the descriptions of many events and cultural traditions, giving a new kind of liveliness to the story of the youth’s return to his homeland and to his meetings with the people who live there. Among them are the nestinari, men and women, often quite young, of priestly importance, who walk on red-hot coals without being burned during the once-a year religious celebration. The overwhelming presence of storks in the spring and summer also adds to the spiritual tone of everyday life in Klisura. An unusual – possibly unique – combination of coming-of-age novel and epic of Bulgarian history and culture, the narrative has the small focus of a young man with limited goals and the grand scope of a culture which has incorporated elements from its Christian, Muslim, and even pagan past over many centuries.

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