In this debut memoir, Gurses tells the story of his parents’ lives around the Sea of Marmara during the second half of the 20th century.
Named after the man who became first president of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal, the author’s father, was born on Nov. 1, 1922, a day that saw the abrogation of the sultanate and the end of 600 years of Ottoman rule in Turkey. The son of a German-educated naval engineer and one-time commander of the Yavuz, battle cruiser of the Turkish Navy, Kemal did not want to follow in his own father’s distinguished steps. After being expelled from Bursa Military Academy, he completed a period of punishment and compulsory military service and then tried his hand at a variety of jobs, including stationmaster, clerk at a naval factory, grocer, accountant and restaurateur. Along the way, he met and married Selma, the beautiful daughter of a senior police officer. Kemal and Selma had three children: two daughters and a son. A card gambler who lost steadily, Kemal nevertheless made good in the end, buying wholesale—and selling retail—the remaining stock of an American metal fabricator that was closing its Turkish operations. Although he lived through such important historical events as World War II and the 1960 Turkish coup d’état, they seem not to have affected him personally; those events only get a few mentions in the book, which is very much the story of a family and primarily of a father, not of a time and place. Still, the book provides a rough outline of Turkish history. The general reader, one not in any way connected to the people described here, may feel that the story contains many superfluous details, that the pacing is too slow and that it comes to an abrupt end; however, friends and relatives are likely to find the narrative engaging enough.
Begins promisingly but doesn’t quite deliver.