In Paris, a young Turkish émigré assuages her loneliness by striking up a friendship with a novelist.
“So much of the texture of a relationship disappears when shaped into stories,” the narrator of Savas’ debut novel opines. Nurunisa, or Nunu, is speaking about her relationship with M., a British writer living in Paris who is best known for his novels about Istanbul, Nunu’s hometown. Nunu meets M. at a bookstore reading shortly after she moves to France—ostensibly to go to graduate school, though she has no intention of even beginning the program. Mostly, Nunu is trying to get away from her past: a brilliant, melancholic father who died when she was young, a disconnected mother, an overly analytical ex-boyfriend, and, most of all, Istanbul, a city whose loss looms largest. Completely alone in Paris, Nunu befriends M. on the basis of their shared mythologizing of Turkey. Together, they eat, drink, and mostly walk, traversing the streets of Paris with the ghost of Istanbul as their constant companion. Savas does not plot her novel so much as weave it, with very short chapters taking up threads of Nunu’s childhood—her fussy aunts, her summers spent in the country—and her present ruminations from a time in which M. is no longer in her life, her mother is dying, and Istanbul’s political turmoil “presses down on us, heavier each day.” Nunu calls this reminiscence of M. an “inventory,” and that’s exactly what Savas has produced here, rendering with elegant intelligence the minute details of both places and people. That the novel moves in circles, acknowledging that some places can be glimpsed but never really explored, makes it all the more like a long walk through a city one can never quite call one’s own.
A refined and wistful exploration of the nature of memory.