Book Review - The Aziz Bey Incident

Ayfer Tunç, an acclaimed novelist and short story writer in her native Turkey, is widely translated abroad but little known in English. In this engaging short story collection, we follow the fortunes of various characters, defeated by circumstances or forces outside their control.

In the title story, Aziz Bey is an elderly tambur player. A renowned musician who once played the major nightclubs of Istanbul, he now ekes out a meagre living at Zeki's tavern. Mourning his late wife, his melancholy tunes start to put off the younger customers, and a showdown with the owner becomes inevitable. Aziz blames his misfortune on a fleeting love affair with Maryam in his distant past . When her family left Istanbul to seek their fortune in Beirut, Aziz followed his sweetheart but Maryam realised very quickly that she was no longer interested in him. Wounded to the core, he returned home; the affair's unhappy conclusion was "like an illness that somehow never got better." He married but never learned to appreciate his wife or recover his youthful ardour. He could not forget the "three days spent in a hot city, blue as far as the eye could see, shaded by palm trees, dates, and other, taller palms".

'The Snow Traveller' features another solitary man whose "deadly loneliness...ate into his soul like a malignant tumour." Eșber, a train signal man, lives in a remote region of Turkey that, for most of the year, is carpeted in white. When a flash of colour appears he is exhilarated to discover a young woman lying in the snow and nurses her back to health. Fidan had jumped off the train, fleeing unnamed assailants. However, she is quickly unsettled by Eșber's unhealthy obsession.

In 'A Cold Winter' Samavi Bey is also fixated by the memory of a woman. After losing his wife in a fire, Samavi never get warm again. He wanders from room to room in his house and visits coffee houses in an attempt to still his agitated heart. Eventually he wanders into a hamam where "the heat of the bath seemed to him like the heat of a love that had eluded him."

Tunç writes about bitter disappointment with real skill so that her characters sense of hopelessness is affecting rather than maudlin. In the darkly comic 'Tales of Womanising', a man dreams of becoming a figure of desire. His friends' idle boasts about their conquests infect his mood until he is mired in "a deep and fatal affliction." He starts to pretend to be having an affair. Despite his wife's evident distress he can't stop himself and his various deceits become more and more elaborate with tragic consequences.

In the final story, Tunç playfully recreates the existential anxieties of a series of characters waiting to be written into a story. Jealous of one another they are also highly ambitious regarding their development and status in the plot. It's a fitting conclusion to this haunting, unique collection that vividly evokes Turkey's various landscapes.

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