Many and Many a Year Ago by Selcuk Altun

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Many and Many a Year Ago by Selcuk Altun

Category: General Fiction
Rating: 3/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A man set upon an endless task of finding people for others offers a premise for a singular love story, let down by a lack of mysterious mood in the first half, despite trying to link with Poe.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 238 Date: August 2009
Publisher: Telegram
ISBN: 978-1846590672

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Kemal is going places, and quickly - he has powered through a career in the airforce, with the help of an F-16. He also thinks his love of western classical music had something to do with it. But an accident leaves him with a juddery hand, depressive thoughts, and a major set-back in his life. Just by chance, at this time, an acquaintance decides he should give Kemal a nice large flat, and a healthy pension, should he retire. So he does.

The fact that this news comes to him from said friend's identical twin, with news the beneficiary seems to have vanished from the face of the earth, only starts a welter of unusual, suspiciously odd tales. Everywhere he looks Kemal meets with someone who has lost someone - a childhood friendship broken up, a burgeoning love nipped in the bud. Kemal has it in mind to find the giver of his largesse, but gets sidetracked with these other missions, that make him declare himself a detective, and send him round rural Turkey, and even to the other side of the Atlantic.

I can't judge the translation here, but this still manages to read as a most European novel. There's a sort of Kafkaesque tribulation for Kemal as he undergoes his tasks - faceless people vanishing, lying to him, and more. There are pages without dialogue, too, although this never goes anywhere near the lumpen, page-long sentences European modernism can give us.

Instead it reads as some sort of Carlos Ruiz Zafon meets Matthew Pearl meets Edgar Allan Poe. The primary missing person is a Poe fan, and there are clues regarding a deathly love poem by the American master drifting through this book - but the book never catches on to them, and certainly misses the spirit of Poe. There should be a macabre sense of a man hounded by trying to do good regarding living wills, legacies, lost loves and fractured families.

Instead the hero is shuttled round Istanbul like the taxi customer he so regularly is - jaggedly crossing from one part of that huge city to the next. The sun's out, but it's as hazy as it gets. I sought a lot more depth and darkness to his travails, and with the help of his first person narrative voice I could have taken or left, and a sense of every other character being a stool pigeon for the author to bury him deeper in the odd for odd's sake, this did not work for me. So by the time the second half merged into a most singular love story - and never has one been so contrived for a book's hero - I was long past hoping for a more approachable protagonist, and a stronger empathy for him and the people requesting so much of him.

It's a unique premise, borrowing as I suggest from classics of the form, then trying to go all romantic on us, but certainly not emulating them. Stick to Zafon, if you enjoy his books, check out Pretty Dead Things by Barbara Nadel or one of the other Istanbul-set thrillers, but do not go to the ends of the earth for this, however convincing the person saying this is missing from their/your life might be.

I must thank Telegram for my review copy.

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Buy Many and Many a Year Ago by Selcuk Altun at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Many and Many a Year Ago by Selcuk Altun at Amazon.com.


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