A harrowing and unsettling novel confronts the refugee crisis in Turkey.
Move over Orhan Pamuk. There’s an exciting new Turkish novelist in town. Gunday, the enfant terrible of Turkish literature, has published a number of controversial novels; this one, which won the Le Prix Médicis Étranger in 2015, is the first to be translated into English. A dark and unrelenting voyage into a modern Celine-an hell, it takes on one of the most significant issues facing the world today, the plight of refugees, specifically those escaping Syria, Iran, and Iraq. It’s told through the eyes of Gaza, a teenager who’s a good student, plays chess, and likes to read but grows up as a “people smuggler.” Ahad, his father, sees the world as dog-eat-dog survivalism: “If my father weren’t a killer, I wouldn’t have been one either.” Ahad’s truck regularly transports desperate immigrants—the “meat”—through Turkey to Gaza’s town near the Aegean Sea. Until the boats arrive to take them to Greece, the immigrants live for days or weeks in a dark, perpetually warm “hell pit,” an enclosed concrete reservoir with an iron door. Gaza calls it the “mausoleum of horrors.” Since he was 9, Gaza has been cleaning their excrement off the sawdust-covered floor, selling them costly water and food, and ignoring their pleas for “more.” Gunday’s novel unflinchingly confronts what happens when a child is brought up to hate and inflict pain: “I was like a child raised by wolves to become one myself.” The book’s simple, conversational style belies the phantasmagoric, horrific, and violent things Gaza describes and participates in: brutal humiliation, rape, necrophilia, torture, murder. Any spark of love or respect is extinguished, even his search for some kind of redemption. A line from Baudelaire becomes his mantra: “My heart is lost; the beasts have eaten it.” This is a disturbing, politically charged portrait of the refugee crisis.
A Tin Drum for a new generation.