Love and war

Izzet Celasin's debut novel Black sky, Black sea is an unusual novel, not least because its author, a Turk, wrote it in his second language Norwegian. Celasin was exiled from his homeland following his arrest after the 1980 military coup, after spending some time interned for his left-wing views, he found a new home in Norway.

Black sky, Black sea covers much of the same ground as the previously reviewed Museum of Innocence by Orhan Pamuk. Both cover a dark period in Turkish history, and deal with themes of lost love and exile. Celasin, however deals with it in a much more direct style than Pamuk; and if his language is more brusque and less beautiful, I actually found Black sky a more accessible and ultimately a more moving and realistic novel.

Hero Oak (his real name is only revealed much later in the novel) comes of age politically when he is caught up in the violent putting-down of a student protest in Taksim Square, Istanbul in the late '70s. While escaping the violence he comes across the beautiful Zuhal, a politically conscious female demonstrator, who becomes drawn into the left-wing guerrilla groups that are burgeoning in an increasingly polarized Turkish society. Zuhal will always put her fight for a better society ahead of personal relationships, and Oak and Zuhal drift apart. Oak's family follow many other Turks into exile in Germany escaping a country that is becoming increasingly violent, and repressive, but Oak stays in the city he was brought up in awaiting news of Zuhal, but then another woman comes into his life...

Black sky is a sad story. And it's a surprisingly relevant story for today. Turkey may have changed dramatically since the violence of the 1980's; but this tale of refugees, unstable societies, and the lives of those trying to live normal lives in uneasy times is as relevant today as ever. Although much of this novel sounds as though it may be semi-autobiographical, and though Celasin's sympathies are certainly not with the repressive regime that ran Turkey in the early '80s, there is a certain sense of moral ambiguity here. The reader's emotions and sympathies are pulled in different directions, now sympathising with the guerrillas, now feeling less sure of the right of their cause.

It's a powerful and very moving tale, beautifully translated by Charlotte Barslund, who has previously been responsible for translating Norwegian crime novels. If you haven't come across Celasin before, this is a book well worth picking up.


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