An elusive novel (apparently completed in the 1970s) by the Turkish author (1930–95) allegorizes a narrator’s pursuit of an unattainable loved one.
There are two intersecting narratives. The central one describes an unnamed narrator’s arrival in a “medieval” city, where he’s drawn to a dark stranger who leads him to a recurring chesslike game in which the city’s inhabitants contend with travelers and tourists. The other contains 12 fabulistic tales about defining voyages and encounters in which distinctions between humans and animals are blurred or questioned. In one, for example, an otherworldly fish becomes the destructive “burden” of the fisherman who catches it; in another, a porcupine observed strolling an Ankara street becomes a metaphor for its observer’s unadventurous, withdrawn life. As the chess game nears its foreordained outcome, the juxtaposed stories are elaborated even more revealingly. A boy trained as an acrobat depends on, and fears, the unpredictable “master” poised to catch him in flight. A scientific researcher discovers that eating the leaves of an exotic plant renders one incapable of lying—and that human beings cannot bear undiluted truth. An adventurer crossing a vast plain learns that “One must turn as a wheel, and move forward.” The reader gradually infers the relevance of these cryptic revelations of commitment, uncertainty, yearning, and self-understanding—and both the novel’s structure (which, we’ve begun to suspect, represents hours in one life’s day, or months in its year) and title are explained in the 12th tale, a story that declares its intention to reconcile “the natural inequality between the creative work and its creator.” Karasu’s fascinating puzzle is thus an illuminating transitional work between the work of Turkey’s romantic realist Yashar Kemal and contemporary postmodernist Orhan Pamuk.
Very much the best book of Karasu’s (Death in Troy, 2002, etc.) to have appeared in English translation (a splendidly lyrical one, incidentally). More, please.