“Dead Male Birds” by Inci Aral

Ölü Erkek Kuşlar(Author: Inci Aral) + (Year: 1996) + (Goodreads)

(Around the world: Turkey)


Review:

Turkish literature strikes again.

I’m not sure how to weigh this book’s positives and negatives.

Turkish literature and modern Balkan literature are quite unusual in comparison to American and British literature even when the same genre (i.e. adult fiction) is concerned. The Western world puts a lot more focus on the plot, the twists and the turns in the story, of trauma, especially hidden one.

However, all the modern Turkish literature I have read is entirely centered on the characters. This book is not an exception. I will write specifically about Dead Male Birds, but everything that I say can easily be applied to every other book that I have had access to, that is set in Turkey in the last 20-30 years.

Dead Male Birds is a book about a woman who is torn between two men. The narrative is non-linear and, at times, very confusing. The main character, Suna, is having a conversation with her husband Ayhan, and she is suddenly elsewhere, in a different time and place, with her lover Onur. Then jump back – Suna is having a weird dream. Jump forward – we are in a movie theater and something completely different is happening. Then we are back to Ayhan, then months forward to Onur…

The writing is not without merit. The author is well-versed into describing emotions and emotional states. What is lacking is the reasoning behind the emotions. Suna is completely undecided on what she wants from her life, and more importantly, who she wants. Time and again she pushes both men our of her life, then draws them back in. We are privy into her desperation and sadness, but we never really find out why she is doing any of this.

The entire plot doesn’t really move much, to begin with. The story is very drawn-out, unnecessary long, and often repetitive.

The characters are developed to different levels. Emotionally, Suna is a very rich character. However, Ayhan is only represented by his actions toward Suna, and nothing more. Onur, the lover, is described up to the point where his relationship with Suna starts. After that he becomes this blank person who just pushes Suna’s inner drama.

I think the reason for this is that Dead Male Birds is a rather feminist book, or an attempt at one. It deals with the woman’s role in society, how her life is planned out, how she is not much more than a piece of furniture in the house. And while this book was written 20 years ago, I don’t think that much has changed for women in Turkey. They are still first and foremost wives and mothers, and then maybe, maybe, if they fight hard for it, they might try to be something else. That, however, carries yet another stigma – the one of the women who want to step out of the regulations.

One of my favourite parts of the book is the role-reversal between Suna and Ayhan. Ayhan, a scholar who has lived abroad, grows tired of his wife’s passivity, the fact that she is not as well educated as he is and also the fact that she doesn’t have friends of her own, doesn’t have a job, doesn’t have interests. At that point, he sees that she has been indoctrinated into being this person, and he doesn’t like it. So he makes a contract according to which Suna has to start standing on her own feet, to read and learn, to find friends and a job. Once that happens, she realizes that she can be much more than his wife, while he realizes that he doesn’t really want her to be that well educated after all.

For me, this is a real issue in countries like Turkey. From firsthand experiences from friends and, mostly, acquaintances, Turkish men often mistreat their wives and girlfriends because they see them as dull and boring, and they go to look for adventures outside of home. (Once at a social gathering I heard the following: “Give me a second to tell my girlfriend that I am in bed, so that she can go to sleep.” “But you are at a party.” “She doesn’t have to know that.” “But that’s not right.” “Come on, she is so annoying, she’ll ask me who’s here and so on, and she obviously can’t come, this is not a place for her.” And later that guy found another girl to keep him entertained.) But once those same “dull and boring” girls try to liberate themselves, they become undesirable, too loose, too frivolous in the eyes of society.

The author tries to make her own comment on this fact, but then forgets to build a story around it, so the book turns into an really long narrative of the suffering of three broken, damaged and selfish people.

“Yaban” by Yakup Kadri Karaosmanoglu

Yaban(Author: Yakup Kadri Karaosmanoglu) + (Year: 1932) + (Goodreads)

(Around the world: Turkey)


Review:

Initially I was not sure about this book. Having read Kiralik Konak, I couldn’t fully grasp where the author was going and why he had a sudden change of heart as to his world views. However, I quickly realized that at the beginning of the book he heavily used irony to introduce the strange world of Anatolia to the reader.

Similarly to what I said in my review about The Bridge on the Drina, I think that a person who has never had any kind of contact with Anatolia, and with Turkey outside of Istanbul in general, would have a problem completely understanding Yaban (translated as The Strange on Wikipedia; whereas yabancı is a foreigner, an alien [though not one from outer space]).

This book represents a world that has hardly changed from the time it was written, or, as a matter of fact, the time it is set in, or any time before that. Anatolia is not anything that one could just imagine. The people living there are, and seem to have been for a really long time, suspended in a certain timelessness. Their world might change as the outside world does, but their mindset doesn’t necessarily need to follow.

The main character in Yaban is a veteran from the war, the son of a rich family from Istanbul, who loses his arm during WWI and, defeated, decides to “look for himself” in a quiet village in Anatolia, supposedly somewhere close to Sakarya (which is still far away from inner or Eastern Anatolia, which is yet another, completely different world). What this man is not prepared for is that even though he is from the same country, even though he speaks almost the same language, albeit much more refined, even though he has lost his arm to protect these people, they will never see him as one of them. He is always rejected as a crippled outsider, unwanted and unwelcome. The most that he ever achieves is to be tolerated, but never sought after.

The world has changed a lot since the times of the book – the Turkish Liberation War (1919-1922), but I wouldn’t say that Anatolia has done so, too. I had the opportunity to live in Ankara, the second biggest metropolis in Turkey, and to travel around the country, and I can understand the character of this book very well. While in university life I could almost fit in, especially considering that I speak the language, whenever me and my friends would go on a trip to any other city in Anatolia, we would stick out like a sore thumb. On one occasion we were walking on a seemingly empty market street in a rather big town, only to have every single person from every single store come out to gawk at us in a matter of seconds.

Therefore, this special mindset can be attributed to the culture of this mainland part of Turkey. The closed societies, everyone knowing everybody else, the people sticking together in times of need, but always mistrusting outsiders. This is something that, I believe, was a common phenomenon all over the world before globalization and multiculturalism, but in many parts of the world, and especially Europe, where by many standards Turkey is, it has changed a lot since. More so, even if strangers and foreigners are noticeable in small towns all over Europe, they are still more welcome.

I think that this lack of change in Anatolia can, therefore, be attributed to the continuing conflict between European culture and Islamic tradition. And when I say Islamic tradition, I especially need to underline the word tradition. Because religions of all kinds are tightly linked to following a set of rules which resist time and change and, in some cases, get much stronger with time and under the pressure of outside forces to evolve.

What bothered me in this story is also closely linked to the traditionalism of religion. Yaban is very actual today. I am afraid to say that in the last century it has never been more close to the reality of the current situation than today. The book is set right in the middle of Ataturk’s war for the liberalization of Turkey. Ataturk’s ideas were very controversial at the time. Today he is widely beloved, but that was not necessarily so during his rise to power. He was also considered an outsider and even an oppressor by some. And the main reason for that was that Ataturk shared many of the European values, including the idea that religion should not play a central role in society. Which means that after he became head of the newly born Turkish Republic, he lowered the importance of religion and went ahead to educate the people in a new set of cultural values.

In recent years religion has been re-gaining its positions, which means that more and more people become torn between Westernization and dedication to Islam. And this time around the government, in opposition to Ataturk’s principles, is promoting the role of religion, therefore taking a step back from what was achieved during the Liberation War. And never has the following quote from the book been more relevant to society, and not in a good way:

– I know, you are one of them. 
– Who are “them”?
– The ones who support Kemal Pasha [Ataturk].
– How can a man be a Turk and not support Kemal Pasha?
– My friend, we are not Turks.
– What are you, then?
– We are Muslim, alhamdulillah, praise be to God.

(translated by me) 

 

 

“Lady Mechanika Vol. 2: The Tablet of Destinies” by Joe Benítez

Lady Mechanika Vol. 2: The Tablet of Destinies (The Tablet of Destinies, #1-6)(Author: Joe Benítez) + (Year: 2016) + (Goodreads)


Review:

Not as good as the first one.

My general problem with Lady Mechanika, after two volumes, is that it doesn’t follow through. In the first volume she was decided on finding her maker. In this volume that story is completely forgotten and something completely different is happening on a different continent.

Not to mention that this is Lady Mechanika and the tablet of destinies, except that Lady Mechanika is not even in the story line with the tablet. So to call it like this would be something like “Aragorn and the One Ring”. I mean… uh… they are in the same world?

I firmly believe that this could have been much better, had the story been more condensed and had there been fewer sub-plots.

Much like the first volume, there is a recipe in which there is a male mastermind who has a bunch of generic soldiers and a female assistant, while Lady Mechanika on the other team finds unlikely friends and a mysterious guy who helps her from afar. Maybe if they hadn’t followed this already used story, it could have been much better.

I continued liking the art, however. It was very intricate and detailed, and also pleasant to look at. The more female characters come in, the more obvious it is that they are all the same when you remove the colors. But I will choose to disregard that and enjoy the general feel of the book which was pretty good.

“The Wicked + The Divine, Vol. 4: Rising Action” by Kieron Gillen

The Wicked + The Divine, Vol. 4: Rising Action(Author: Kieron Gillen) + (Year: 2016) + (Goodreads)


Review:

Yes! Thank the Pantheon, the art disaster that was the last volume has been put to an end. I couldn’t be happier to have the beautiful art back. Having read as many comic books as I have so far, I think that Jamie McKelvie’s art is up there at the top for me.

In every single frame the art is so astoundingly beautiful that I am even willing to forgive some of the flaws in the plot.

This volume convinced me that The Wicked + The Divine is following a simple story arc, using simple art (in the sense that there aren’t millions upon millions of layers, textures and so on), and following a pace that is neither too slow, nor too fast. While I think that this is a very safe recipe, it also makes it easier to follow through with the plots and to not create a mess of story lines that go no where. At the same time, the story does draw the reader in and keep their interest.

There are two things that I support, and at the same time, would not mind if they changed a bit:

  1. The pace: As I said, thanks to the medium pace, the story lines get resolved. However, 4 volumes in, we haven’t moved that much forward in terms of the plot. The character development is more vigorous, but the general aim of the book is somewhere in the distant future, because only at the end of this volume, do we see the end of the first act. Ananke‘s words at the end of Rising Action are ominous and predict that there is going to be a completely different big arc in the book, and one that will have a much bigger adversary.
  2. The character interactions: The characters have a set of relationships with each other worthy of a soap opera, but it’s actually really hard to find the motivation for their actions. Why these two hate each other and those two don’t is usually determined by the alliances and enmity which serve the author. Also, taking into consideration that they are in a constant war, they don’t actually have that much time to interact.

Thank being said, I love Laura’s team. But not Laura herself. He-he.

tumblr_static_tumblr_static_2hd3n4k8r8w044800cow00w00_640

“Lady Mechanika, Vol.1: the Mystery of Mechanical Corpse” by Joe Benítez

Lady Mechanika, Vol.1: the Mystery of Mechanical Corpse(Author: Joe Benítez) + (Year: 2015) + (Goodreads)


Review:

*** 3.5, but not enough for 4 ***

I enjoyed Lady Mechanika a lot more than I did Wraithborn. Considering my immense disappointment with the latter, I was almost scared to start Lady Mechanika.

But as I received both of these, and the 2nd volume of Lady Mechanika, from NetGalley, I had to finish it. I am glad I had this incentive, because ultimately, Lady Mechanika is by far better than Wraithborn.

Lady Mechanika is the epitome of steampunk. Everything about it is highly detailed and intricate. If you look at the illustrations, you would notice that there are layers upon layers of art and attention to detail and I can’t not admit how impressive that is.

The art, in general, was much better here than in Wraithborn. If you remember my review, I was aghast at the depiction of women. They are still very sexual in Lady Mechanika, but it’s done a lot more tastefully, to a point where I can agree that this is the wet dream of a classy high school boy.

I also found the story more intriguing. I enjoyed the main story arc about the mechanical people a lot. The part that didn’t impress me as much were the sub-plots and hints at other relations between the character that just add fluff to a story that could go without. Almost all characters are related in pairs and have common past. These two are siblings, those two worked together, the two men know each other, etc. etc. As far as the story about the Frankenstein-esque doctor who creates the mechanical people goes, there’s already enough suspense that everything else is just micromanagement of pages that need to be filled.

And speaking of, my major issue with Lady Mechanika: the writing. Literally. The author really wanted to write a book, didn’t have enough material for that, but he obviously had too much for a comic book. There is just SO MUCH DIALOGUE. It doesn’t go harmoniously with graphic novels. A book rat such as myself can tell you as much: when you are reading a book, you can take as many pages of text as there are; but if you are reading a comic book, you are not prepared for the insane amount of dialogue that is just out of place and both disjoints the story, and distracts the reader.

17122262_10208079221248197_1833619330_o

Looking at this, I remember what I thought when I was initially reading it: This is honestly outrageous.