“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.

“Wolf, Vol. 1: Blood and Magic” by Ales Kot

Wolf, Vol. 1: Blood and Magic(Author: Ales Kot) + (Year: 2015) + (Goodreads)


Review:

Not the worst comic book I have read, but definitely going somewhere down there at the bottom.

Wolf is this annoying guy that we all know, who is always trying to tell a story, but is either too drunk or too high, so he can’t really remember what happened, so he just keeps blurting stuff out without any sense or correlation.

Let me explain it to you: “Oh man, there was this burning guy looking at L.A, and then there were these dead dudes, and the creepy little girl, and the dude was talking to the police, and there was the creepy lady, and also a mind-controlling guy in the bus, and this guy got kidnapped, and there was also that other guy who had… whaddaya call ’em… tentacles on his face, oh and there were also some vampires, and the dude is actually immortal, ya know the one who was burning, but he hadn’t always been immortal, because he was in the war in Afghanistan or somethin’, and there was a chick, but forget about the chick ’cause I never met ‘her. And the little girl was the Antichrist, and her grandma was a ghost, and her dad was that evil dude, but not her dad who raised her, her other dad, but there were also these other evil dudes, and the burnin’ guy stopped burnin’ and killed some people… Ah, shit man, I have no idea what happened.”

wolf-vol-1-1

If what I just did annoyed you, don’t bother with Wolf.

The illustrations themselves were pretty, but I wasn’t a fan of the coloring methods they chose. Almost every page was in a limited palette of colors, specifically chosen for the page, for example only yellows and browns. Which, I think, took away from the story, because it all looks really toned down and the people are more similar than they should be.

Overall, I didn’t hate it, but I have no intention to go on with it. I would be interested to get some closure, but seeing how the first volume offered only questions and not a single answer, I don’t want to go through another volume that does the same.

“Satantango” by Laszlo Krasznahorkai

Satantango(Author: Laszlo Krasznahorkai) + (Year: 1985) + (Goodreads)

(Around the World: Hungary)


Review:

I don’t even know what rating to give to this book. Should I rate the style of the book? The ability of the author? How it made me feel? The world it shows? I don’t know the answer to that question, so I’m just giving a rating which is… just. It’s even possible that I will revisit the review and change it.

If you’re wondering why I start this review with such uncertainty, it is because of the book itself. Satantango is undoubtedly one of the most challenging books to classify in any way. It is a snarl of dehumanized humans and vivid bleakness and full emptiness. 

Satantango tells the story of a small Hungarian village at the beginning of a rainy, cold and muddy winter. The characters are in a constant state of suspended development. Their world does not extend beyond the borders of the property they inhabit. Their dreams, passions and motivations have gone out like a candle, and have been replaced by a total confusion, lack of morale and ruled by an “unbearable lightness”.

The people in this novel are tangibly human, with earthly passions and desires which don’t go beyond the physical, but at the same time, they have left the realm of the living and have turned into ghosts in a cold ghost town. Every character is fighting with their own deep, dark and moldy existence. From the doctor who is living in an alcohol daze of his own filth, to a desperate abandoned little girl, so thirsty for attention and love that is willing to cause harm to others and herself, to the gossiping women, the greedy men, the pointlessness and the deep void of them being not quite alive.

The story, told in long, unbroken paragraphs of fractured events, develops from two different main sides, the villagers, all of them intertwined, telling the same story of their sad, miserable life, and Irimias, the mysterious, charming man that they all crave to be, crave to be with, or crave to follow. Irimias is just a small middleman between the ruling power and the peasants, however, in the eyes of the latter, he is a ruler in his own right, a gentleman, a force of nature. They let themselves be enticed and outsmarted by Irimias, and not for any other reason, but because in their eyes, he is alive, where they aren’t.

Krasznahorkai‘s writing in undoubtedly beautiful, but in a very unsettling, and even upsetting way; absurd and confusing. He pays a lot of attention to the small details, the mold in the cracks, the rips in the clothing, the dirt under the nails, while at the same time telling a story which is both simple, and infinitely convoluted. I wouldn’t say that he’s an easy author to read in the slightest. The reader is in a constant state of alertness, because at the same time so much is happening and nothing is happening, so one missed line of text could equal an entire story.

While I did like, and at the same time felt very burdened by this book, I’m not sure I will revisit Krasznahorkai’s novels. One, for sure, is worth reading, but closing yourself in this dark, empty and scary world is not something that I want to volunteer for.

“Fables, Vol. 3: Storybook Love” by Bill Willingham

Fables, Volume 3: Storybook Love

(Author: Bill Willingham) + (Year: 2004) + (Goodreads)


Review:

Now that I have read this volume, I could actually change the rating I gave to the first two, in comparison.

Storybook Love is a very good collection of stories – it includes all of the characters we know and like, who, while being the power that moves the story, are not the story, and all those that we don’t like, but might very soon.

I really enjoyed having a lot of the characters that weren’t shown nearly as much in the previous volumes, or even the ones, like Prince Charming, that I dislike, but I still like to read about. If the story is good, of course.

I think the “fable” from this volume that I liked the most was Bag O’ Bones, and it’s a perfect example of what I was trying to explain above: I could really care less about Jack Horner before reading this, but after I did, I felt a humorous liking toward his character.

The story about Sleeping Beauty was interesting in terms of how the author reimagined the curse, and how he implemented it into the story.

Obviously, the Snow and Bigby‘s story line was the main arc in the volume, however, to me, that was the least interesting one. First, I really, really disliked Goldilocks in every sense of the word, and second, for some reason, while I find him endearing at times, I can’t warm up to Bigby. He’s too dark and moody and aggressive for my tastes. And when he’s not aggressive, he is usually bragging about his dad, the wind.

I really liked the story about the Barleycorn brides. I would say that the flashbacks are one of the best parts of Fables as a whole. We are all aware that the main story is the one in the present, but considering that there are many different versions of all fables, many fable characters included in Fables, a lot happening all the time, and the readers needing background information about the impending war, it’s great that Willingham is actually providing that information… in the form of fables. It would be impossible to go through all existing fables included in the story, but every little bit adds greatly to the whole, in my opinion.

The only minor issue that I have with Fables is that considering how much action there is, a lot of the characters, especially ones that I like, occasionally fall off the grid. For me, as a reader who is not following the story in a straight line, but reading other books in between, it’s sometimes hard to recall what happened to someone last I saw them, because months might pass until the next time. And while it’s good to have a variety of interesting characters, it also presents a certain degree of a challenge.

The main point is, however, that I feel like Fables is becoming better and better with each volume, so I’m excited!

“The Refugees” by Viet Thanh Nguyen

The Refugees(Author: Viet Thanh Nguyen) + (Year: 2017) + (Goodreads)

(Around the World: Vietnam)


Review:

So what exactly went wrong with this book? As harsh as it might sound, to me, it meant nothing.

It’s like when you have that one friend who’s always trying to say something smart, but they end up speaking a lot, and saying nothing. This is how I felt while reading The Refugees.

At the time I decided to request it on NetGalley, because I was excited to see a book from Vietnamese author, I didn’t quite pay attention to the fact that half of the summary of The Refugees is actually a list of the author’s achievements with his other book, The Sympathizer. That would have been the first red light.

And although I know what the author wanted the readers to see in these stories, it’s one thing for the reader to know the purpose of the author, and another to actually experience the author’s ideas. What bothered me the most about The Refugees was the lack of depth to the characters in the stories, and what’s more, the discrepancy between the title and the actual stories in the book.

In order words, the word “refugees” shows this book in a very sensational way, all the while, telling stories which are usually only mildly connected to being a refugee. The difference in this situation is that the narratives of the majority of the characters in the book are those of immigrants. You can’t really take the story of a man with dementia who mistakes his wife’s name with that of his ex-girlfriend/lover, and put it in a book about refugees, because the lover used to be in a country which the characters left. Not only would this be irrational, but it also makes the stories of people who actually fled under a threat for their lives, both in the past, and in the present, seem a lot more trivial and unimportant.

There were maybe only two stories which I would categorize as ones which could properly be called refugee stories: the family which was “visited” by their dead relative, and the boy who arrived to the United States and went through a cultural shock, specifically with the two gay men he was living with. Those are narratives which do prove the clashes between the world of the people who live a normal, stable life, and the ones who are refugees; both from the point of cultural differences, and of ghosts from the past.

And don’t get me wrong, this entire review is not based on semantics. It’s based on the fact that the author wanted to give a perspective of the lives of the Vietnamese refugees, without having much to start with, and therefore, creating a book the point of which remains unclear.

This is specifically so because as much as I, as a reader, wanted to sympathize with the characters, I didn’t feel a part of their adventure. They were regular people who just happened to be out of their place. This can be applied both to the Vietnamese in America, and, say, the Vietnamese girl who went back to Vietnam for a vacation. And the characters didn’t just feel like puppets, because that would imply that they were a part of a story – they were just there, with not much else to give life and spirit to the story.