BookDragon Books for the Diverse Reader

Labyrinth by Burhan Sönmez, translated by Ümit Hussein [in Shelf Awareness]

Boratin is “back at zero” since his unsuccessful suicide has landed him in a hospital bed instead of Istanbul’s Bosphorus Strait. He’s broken a rib but lost his memory. Strangers – even though they aren’t – assure him he’s “a brilliant singer and songwriter” for a popular band; that not long ago he lived with a woman but wasn’t “too cut up about finishing with her”; that he hasn’t seen his sister in far too long. “My mind, which hasn’t got a single word about myself in it,” he realizes, “is bursting with facts about other things” – his own name escapes him, but he can recall “names of ancient philosophers, the colors of soccer teams, the words of the first astronaut who went to the moon.”

In the dizzying Labyrinth, Turkish novelist Burhan Sönmez (Istanbul, Istanbul) follows Boratin as he fills his newly blank slate with stories offered by others. He’s closely guided (and guarded) by Bek, a devoted friend (“Is he my friend?” Borotin naturally questions), who provides glimpses of a shared past, all the while attempting gradually to reconnect Boratin with his unrecognizable life – friends, family, places, experiences. “Losing your memory has set you free,” Bek dares to suggest, challenging Boratin to keep moving forward. A Turkish Cypriot living in Spain, Ümit Hussein is Sönmez’s English translator; she efficiently alchemizes his spare punctuation and flowing paragraphs into a provocative examination of memory and loss, of intent and outcome. Resonant rewards await readers willing to pay close attention to conversations without speech tags and to ruminate on Sönmez’s elliptical, masterful narrative.

Discover: A Turkish musician’s failed suicide attempt erases his past and leaves him with a bewildering uncertainty for his present and future.

Review: “Fiction,” Shelf Awareness, January 7, 2019

Readers: Adult

Published: 2018 (Turkey), 2019 (United States)


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