Turkuvaz Kitap 2009
This is a subtle and disturbing book. It starts with Azra (name meaning ‘virginal, untouched’) writing a journal from her communal prison cell. She is in prison awaiting the results of a post mortem on her husband’s body, accused of murdering him. She details her seven-year relationship with Ferda (name meaning ‘tomorrow’ or ‘Judgement Day’), their attraction, their arguments and fights.
Their relationship is fraught; he can be irritable and tetchy, she has an overwhelming desire to please. In her memory Azra picks up on the slightest of hints; she implies that Ferda may have married her to get land for building greenhouses for his landscape business. She remembers their arguments in detail but is sketchy about their happier times. She has a daughter from a previous marriage who Ferda appears to barely tolerate.
It was the relationship between Azra and her daughter that raised flags for me. For most of the daughter’s life they lived with Azra’s mother, yet in the chapter about the mother’s death Azra never mentions her daughter at all. The daughter eventually goes to America to live with her father and Azra does not seem terribly bothered. I think most mothers would find it traumatic and would spend at least some time worrying over it.
Azra lives in a small village outside Istanbul, running a small pharmacy. She appears to be an upstanding member of the community, though more isolated that normal in a Turkish village. Her relationship with her sister is also fraught. They barely tolerate each other. The sister is married but has frequently separated due to flings with others on both parts. She comes to stay with Azra and Ferda and there the trouble really starts. They have an affair, one of a string that Ferda had throughout the marriage. He finally admits this to Azra, she becomes violent and he leaves. Azra’s hatred for her sister reaches a point that when her nephew is killed in a car crash she refuses to attend the funeral.
The book ends after Ferda returns. Having spent nearly two years waiting for him Azra has slowly lost her grip on reality. This leads to a breakdown of sorts, horrific and unforgiveable.
The revelation at the end of the book, of just how unhinged Azra has become, forces the reader to rethink all that they’ve read. The unreliable narrator is revealed to be completely unreliable; her odd relationship with the daughter is a sign of this. No character comes out with a clean sheet; all have their weaknesses and none are nice at all.
Reading the book left me exhausted. Immediately after reading I was happy to be done with it, but within a few days the full extent of the plot grew on me. Azra is convincing and the writing is persuasive. You enter a disturbed mind without any resistance at all. You take sides in the fights and later realise you may have been on the wrong side. The writing is terrific, the beauty of nature in the idyllic village surroundings contrasts highly with the nasty pettiness of the human relationships. Looking back my admiration of the book grows.
Interestingly for the Translation Prize the piece that caused most discussion in our prose workshop was also written by Inci Aral; “Saman Kokusu”. This short story describes a horrific car accident from the point of view of the driver. Again it pulls the reader into the horror gently before hitting us with the full effects of the crash. Powerful persuasive writing.
Inci Aral was born in Denizli in western Turkey. She writes about the effects of the environment and society on shaping individuals, changing mental states, male-female relationships, bonds of love, communication breakdown in human relations and problems of existence. She writes both novels and stories and is one of Turkey’s foremost female authors.