In Rosenberg’s (This Is Not Civilization, 2004) second novel, a man attempts to “resolve the puzzle” of his relationship with his late, estranged brother.
To the rest of the world, Yusuf Elmas was the hard-partying, womanizing CEO of the cellphone company Teletürk. But to Avram Benezra, Yusuf was his younger brother who rejected the family name and made billions while Avram led an unflashy life as an architect, husband, and father. In the spring of 2005, 14 years after they last spoke, Avram receives a call from Yusuf in the middle of the night and promptly hangs up on him. The following day, he finds out that his brother, a strong swimmer, drowned in the Sea of Marmara after a high-speed boating accident. Five years later, Avram learns that Yusuf had bequeathed his decrepit mansion on the Princes’ Islands to their dead father. Although Avram’s marriage is troubled, he travels alone to the islands to renovate the mansion with the help of Yusuf’s servants, including cook Flora Demirkan, whose 19-year-old daughter, Yasemin Demopoulous, drowned alongside his brother. As Avram speaks with Yusuf’s friends and acquaintances, he reconciles his memory of his difficult sibling—who accused their father of thievery, among other crimes—with an image of a kindhearted, ethical man who risked his life to publicly acknowledge the Armenian genocide in his native Turkey. Avram begins to suspect that his brother’s political actions are connected to his suspicious death, and author Rosenberg hints at a suspenseful conspiracy narrative to which he never quite commits. Despite this missed opportunity, the novel remains compelling and moving thanks to the sibling relationship at its core, which raises provocative questions about loyalty, jealousy, and how well one person can know another. A longing for intimacy shines through Rosenberg’s loveliest passages, as when 9-year-old Avram treats his 5-year-old brother’s cystic fibrosis and comes to “know, better than my own, the geometry of moles and birthmarks on [Yusuf’s] neck.”
An empathetic, challenging
examination of familial secrets, shame, and solidarity.