Turkey's celebrated postmodernist continues the exploration of identity begun in The White Castle (1991) in this often claustrophobic, byzantine mystery appropriately set in the author's native Istanbul. The city, like the story itself, is haunted by the past, a history that includes the Islamic conquest, the long dying of the Ottoman empire, the modernization implemented by Ataturk, and recent regimes threatened by Marxist and military plots. As snow begins to fall, Galip, a young lawyer, comes home to find that his wife, Ruya, a first cousin with whom he grew up in the old apartment block their family once owned, has disappeared, leaving him a 19-word farewell note written in green ink. Telling their family that Ruya is ill, Galip embarks upon a search for her that becomes both a realistic and metaphysical process of detection as he meticulously pursues even the slenderest clues. Convinced that Ruya is hiding out with her half-brother Jelal, a famous newspaper columnist who has also disappeared, Galip starts reading Jelal's old columns in search of clues. These erudite and idiosyncratic columns — everything from examinations of Islamic mysticism to musings on the day when extensive pollution will cause the Bosphorus to dry up — alternate with the chapters recording the ongoing investigation. Galip, long jealous of Jelal, assumes the columnist's identity by moving into one of his many hideouts, wearing his clothes, impersonating him on the phone, and even writing his columns. Like Jelal, Galip is also obsessed with the nature of identity, with reading secrets from people's faces, and with the possibility "of being both someone else and also myself." But this intense and often merely philosophical search ends abruptly in tragedy, and Galip is left writing stories like Jelal; for writing is the "sole consolation." Shades of Calvino with a Turkish twist. And with as many layers as a piece of baklava.
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