A man reflects on the remarkable best friend he had when he was a boy in Istanbul.
Tarsin, the eloquent, self-effacing narrator of Neco’s (Survivor, 2016, etc.) novel, was born the son of a poor farmer a day’s journey from the teeming metropolis of Istanbul. During a time of economic hardship, his father sends him to the city and Tarsin finds himself abandoned there, sleeping in a park and wondering what to do. He’s saved by a young boy named Eşref, who takes him to a nearby “yuva,” a state-run home for abandoned children, where Tarsin soon fits in with the rest of the kids and comes to forget his old life and embrace his new one. Foremost among the things he likes is Eşref himself, who becomes Tarsin’s best friend. (“He was my brother, my father, and my mother,” Tarsin tells readers. “He was my life.”) The bulk of Tarsin’s reminiscences dwell on the exotic freedom and wonder of boys exploring Istanbul (“a gigantic Turkish rug, layers of intrigue, tradition and warmth”) and coming to know each other. In time, Eşref confesses to Tarsin that he’s half-djinn, possessed of wild magic that allows him to sense and alleviate the crushing loneliness felt by so many people in the big city. Eşref’s quiet conviction on the point is counterbalanced by the later revelations of his blithe, cynical mother about the abuse he may have suffered at the hands of her boorish lover. By the time the much-older Tarsin is telling these stories, all of the facts have blurred with nostalgia. Likewise readers are never quite sure what store to place in Tarsin’s repeated hints that Eşref may have killed people—this is one of a handful of undeveloped plot elements in the narrative (the touching student-teacher relationship between Eşref and a retired literature professor is also left a bit sketchy). The pages brim with atmospheric details about life in Istanbul, and the simple joys of young friendship are captured beautifully, but the book’s actual tale can feel at times under-told.
A captivating account of a boy’s friendship with a charismatic loner who may be much more than he seems; an enticing, page-turning read.