Fish Flops

This book was an impulse buy when the kids dragged me into a bookshop (ok who am I kidding, myself and the Brown-Eyed Girl dragged Little Boy Blue). While they searched in the children’s section I scanned the shelves. Interestingly the books were arranged by author, not genre, so my search for a novel was complicated by the fact that Buket Uzuner has written travel memoirs and essays. This book was most definitely a novel with a rather strange picture on the front.

Review of “Balik Izlerinin Sesi” by Buket Uzuner

Everest Yayinlari 2002 (First published 1992)

(Published in English as ‘The Sound of Fishsteps’)

Winner of the 1993 Yunus Nadi Novel Award, this book tells the tale of Afife Piri, a young student who travels to an unidentified northern European country to join a ‘select’ group from around the world. From the start Afife marks herself as different, complaining about the habits of ‘normal’ people. Once at the mysterious United Nations campus deep in the Scandinavian forest she meets more students who are also ‘select’. They all have one thing in common; all claim to be someone else. Most have some blood connection to the people they claim to be and it’s never entirely clear whether they are who they say they are or are just imitating them. So we meet Romain Gary, Jeanne related to Jeanne d’Arc, Carmen related to Miguel de Cervantes, Brooks related to Anais Nin and Anton related to Edward Grieg, among others. Afife is descended from Afife Jale, a celebrated Turkish actress in the early part of the 1900’s on her mother’s side, and to Piri Reis, the 15th century mapmaker.

The story deepens as they uncover a possible plot to rid the world of these ‘select’ individuals, hence why they’ve been brought together. At the same time Afife is falling in love with Romain, wondering if her feelings are appropriate for a ‘select’ person, complicated by Romain’s relationship with Jeanne and Afife’s relationship with Anton. Romain mysteriously disappears and reappears, odd sounds are heard, long nights talking are interrupted by their warders forcing them to swallow pills.

In the end the group escape to a small island taking all art with them, in a move they call ‘Face the Fish’, travelling apparently by spaceship. It is on this island that Afife hears the sound of fish steps as fish flop onto the beach leaving marks behind them.

The intersection of the real and historical characters makes for interesting reading, but many of them come across as undeveloped, the author locks them into the pre-existing character and they never fully come to life. Afife herself is quite annoying; her constant internal questioning is never quite matched to her actions, which seem passive. The final ending was unsatisfactory, they all ran away to ‘punish’ the world for not accepting them. The conclusion of Afife’s relationship with Romain annoyed me, he was completely logical, she came across as both hysterical and passive. At times the writing was poetic and magical but it couldn’t make up for the characters’ shortcomings.

Buket Uzuner was born in Ankara and studied in Ankara, Bergen and Michigan. She has worked as a researcher in Middle East Technical University, Ankara, and Tampere Technical University in Finland. She has travelled extensively across Europe, North America and Africa and currently lives in Istanbul. She has published short stories, novels, and travel books since 1986. Her books have been translated into seven languages.