Voyager in Cliché

Review of “Gizli Anların Yolcusu” by Ayşe Kulin

Everest Yayinlari 2011

 

I groaned aloud while reading this book, I couldn’t help it. One lover snuck up behind the other, covered his eyes. The younger said “I wonder who that is. I wonder whose hands those are, let me think,” before delivering the killer line “how lovely you smell”. Wouldn’t you groan too?

If I tell you this scene is between a young man from eastern Turkey, raised by a violent father and a passive mother, who was abused by a leader in a religious group as a boy and his older male boss who just ‘discovered’ his homosexuality the night before, apparently having been touched by reading about the younger’s terrible childhood, now are you groaning?

The Voyager of Secret Moments is the story of Ilhami, owner of a publishing company in Istanbul, and a man weighed down by stereotypes. His wife is grieving after their son was killed in a car accident years earlier. She’s been to every type of psychiatrist and therapist and has resorted to séances before finally finding solace in charity work. They have had virtually no sex life since the accident. He initially finds drunken solace with his female business partner before discovering true love with his young graphic designer, Bora, described above. The whole book then focuses on all the various schemes and plans he uses to juggle all these relationships.

He manages to deal with his daughter’s infatuation with Bora. Though one thing puzzled me, the girl sees Bora’s apartment, comments on the amount of stuffed toys and still doesn’t figure out he’s gay? I’m sure any 17-year old from a London boarding school is smarter than that.

Ilhami gives the whole company a month off, allowing him to travel to New York with his wife, daughter and business partner (now ex-lover) before he abruptly leaves for Beijing to spend some quality time with Bora while supposedly at a book fair. Having had no qualms at all about the physical side of homosexuality, he has many about being seen in public with Bora. By this stage he’s bought the apartment Bora lives in, as well as a Rolex, a Macbook and all sorts of expensive clothes for him.

Bora’s book about his childhood is published by the company under a false name and he uses his fancy new laptop to begin his next book. This details his relationship with Ilhami and also some dodgy dealings with someone from his past. Bora changed his identity while doing his military service to get away from his father. This new book is what brings about the inevitable ending.

The book ends when all the strings unravel and all is revealed. In fact about the only thing that kept me reading was the old trick of starting with the ending. We know someone is dead, we know Ilhami is taken for questioning about it, though he claims not to have done it. We know he’s lost his wife, his daughter, his house, his home, his work, his partner and his secret love all in only 24 hours. The guessing game kept me going when it was tough to care about Ilhami, his lies and all the deceit.

The language in the book is very close to the Turkish I hear on the street so it was an easy read. The writing flowed easily. The author’s next book follows the story from a different perspective in “Bora’s Book”.

Overall an easy read but so full of stereotypes that no topic was treated with the depth it deserved. Grief, fidelity and intimacy in relationships, prejudice against homosexuality in Turkey, even the occasional vague mention of political problems; all were skimmed over when each could nearly be a book in themselves.

 

Ayşe Kulin is one of Turkey’s leading authors and was the highest earning author in Turkey in 2011. She was born in Istanbul in 1941 and began publishing in 1984. She has earned numerous awards and accolades for her writing and published essays, story collections, novels and biographies. Four of her novels and one short story collection have been published in English. Her novel “Farewell: A Mansion in Occupied Istanbul” was longlisted for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. She has written two autobiographies, been married twice and has four sons.

  • Catherine, Awesome that you’re reviewing Turkish books read in the original language.

    As a writer/reader I’m intrigued by your last remark, “Overall an easy read but so full of stereotypes that no topic was
    treated with the depth it deserved. … all were skimmed over
    when each could nearly be a book in themselves.”
    One would think an author who has published books before would know she doesn’t have to cram all those subjects in one book. That’s usually what you come across in debut novels. First time authors feeling they only have one chance to say it all.
    You wrote that you recognize the street language, does that perhaps mean it’s also a certain genre?

  • There is a cultural aspect here. If the author were to go into any one of those topics in depth she may alienate some readers (there’s prejudice about a lot of things hiding just under the surface). She might have thought that as a popular author she could ‘spread the word’ on some of these issues by hitting lots of targets. Personally I don’t think it worked well in this book anyway. I haven’t read the follow-up yet, but she may be more focused there.
    I don’t think it’s a specific genre, more that she is focused on writing in the words you hear on the street. I need to do some more reading to figure out if that’s unusual or not. The other books I’ve read have had a more ‘literary’ language and left out some of the slang.