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The Black Book


Binker
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First of all, about placement. This book was published in Turkish in 1990, but wasn't translated into English until 2006. I put it in 20th Century because that's when it was originally published, although most English speakers won't have read it until this century.

 

The main character of this book is Galip, whose beloved wife (and cousin), Ruya, and her half-brother and a famous Istanbul columnist, Celal, have disappeared. The book follows Galip's search for them.

They are found murdered at the end of the book and there is some evidence that it is Galip who murdered them, although you could easily miss the evidence if you weren't looking for it. I was looking for it, though, because I had decided early on in the book that Galip was a unreliable narrator (really, I had decided that he was mad) and that he had murdered them because they were closer to each other than they were to him. But when I checked the amazon.com reviews, no one else seems to agree with me. Maybe I read too many detective novels, but then, Ruya does, too.

 

 

The book alternates the story with columns written by Celal on a variety of subjects, all of them interesting. Some are fanciful (the Bosphorus dries up and you can suddenly see all the junk at the bottom, which reminded me a bit of the anime movie "Spirited Away," which my son and I love), some are cultural (a good amount of discussion of Rumi), and some provide local Istanbul color (a mannequin maker whose mannequins are ignored because they look like Turkish people and not the preferred Westerners). I enjoy that kind of writing and enjoyed it in this book.

 

The book appears most of all to occupy itself with identity, both personal and cultural. Neither people nor a culture can ever be happy unless they are themselves, but that is much harder to accomplish than one might wish.

For awhile, Galip appropriates Celal's identity and pretends to himself and the outside world that he is Celal. You can see him heading in that direction through much of the book and you can't blame him: Celal is considered a great intellectual with followers all over Turkey and he is closer to Ruya than Galip, her own husband. But he's not Celal and I am afraid that this realization is what drives him over the edge. If I'm even right about it.

 

 

There is also a lot of discussion about finding God or at least finding the holy within oneself. While I know something about Islam and a little bit about Rumi, I could tell that I would have gotten more out of the book if I knew more and I would have gotten a lot more out of the book if I had grown up in that culture or at least one where reading about someone being thrown down a well would have instantly reminded me about the fate of one of Rumi's closest confidantes. Of course I didn't catch that reference until I read more about Rumi on line (and that reminded me of My Name is Red, too, which means I missed a bunch of cultural allusions there). But even without those advantages, I still found the book engrossing and thought-provoking.

 

There were also times, though, when I felt that I had no idea what was going on. These clueless interludes didn't last too long, which is why I stuck with the book, but they were there and it was the part of the book that I enjoyed the least. But overall, I would strongly recommend this book.

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