Elegantly composed vignettes exploring Turkish life and nationality during and just after WWII, by émigré author Farhi (Children of the Rainbow, 2002, etc.).
Two decades after 1919, the year Ataturk founded the modern Turkish republic, the generation depicted here still keenly experiences the uncertainties involved in the attempt to define Turkish identify. A different youthful voice narrates each of the interlinked stories, which follow the divergent fates of a group of middle-class, fairly well-educated childhood friends in Istanbul. “In the Beginning” introduces us to Rifat, a fat boy excluded from the neighborhood gang, who recounts the tragic death of his best friend’s tomboy sister. Gül can’t live with her awful prophetic gift, which enables her to foretell the Erzincan earthquake of 1939 and the fate of the Jews in death camps. (Among the group of friends are some Dönme Jews, people who have ostensibly converted to Islam but still practice Judaism in secret.) Robbie, a Scottish boy whose father works in the British embassy, narrates “A Tale of Two Cities.” He recounts a daring, foolhardy attempt by a few of the boys to save one gang member’s Jewish relatives in Salonica, where they are threatened with annihilation by the Nazis. In “Half-Turk,” neighbor and girlfriend Selma writes letters to Bilal, who has been missing for a year since he attempted to sneak fake passports for his relatives into Salonica. Her subject is the disastrous national policy established during the country’s uneasy period of neutrality: Varlik, the imposition of taxes on non-Muslim businessmen. Mustafa’s erotic tale, “Rose-Petal Jam,” brings the multiethnic group to boarding school in Bebek as disciples of their adored literature teacher. In a grand experiment in cosmopolitanism, 13 of the boys become devoted lovers of a local woman, who initiates them into the paradise of sex.
Intimate tales beautifully elucidate a richly heroic, romantically sensuous Turkish heritage.