When you think of “Night”, you might think of Elie Wiesel’s excellent, but harrowing, book about the Holocaust. But “Night” is also the name of a short novel by Turkish author Bilge Karasu. It’s an odd book, one which is not the easiest to follow, and purposely so. Apparently written in the 1970s, it was published in the 1980s, and translated into English in the 90’s. I read it, more or less, over the past two days. Why, I am not sure.
Let me try to explain. I bought this book shortly after we traveled to Turkey and the idea of a novel by a popular, prize winning Turkish author, seemed like a good idea. But then it sat for several years. Until yesterday.
The book is only 142 pages but has 110 chapters. That shows you that it’s no normal book.
Turkey was sort of a mess, I suppose, in the 70s, so it is not surprising that the book is set in an anonymous country where mysterious “night workers” roam the streets, causing havoc, and killing and maiming seemingly innocent people, and “disappearing” others. But who is the narrator, afraid of being murdered, kidnapped by an old friend or classmate, sent as a representative of a government he hates to some sort of an important conference abroad, where he is or isn’t accompanied by an old friend and sometime lover, and where he knows better than to try to escape or defect.
Back at home, night keeps closing in, the city undergoes massive changes, with streets dug up, pipes replaced, streets repaired but no longer connecting, on very different levels, this street four yards higher than that street, and that street four yards higher than the next. Movement is impossible around the city, yet it is a crime to be away from home after dark.
In the meantime, the author, who may or may not be the narrator, intersperses his own thoughts throughout the book – not the thoughts about the story – but thoughts about the process of writing, of trying to make things clear or not, of wondering what the reader is thinking and whether he will continue on and finish the book.
How does it end?
“A familiar face that I cannot place. I am in agony at not being able to recognize it, to connect it with anything, to place it. When the face gets much closer, for a moment I think it resembles His; then I change my mind. As it gets even closer, the face looks more like the woman called Sevim, although in a masculine guise. Then I recognize the face. I know it belongs to Sevinc, and I realize that it has all been a trick my dazzled eyes have played on me. Sevinc looks at me, smiling slightly mockingly. I have a sudden urge to strnagle him. I make for his throat like a madman. In dreadful pain, as if being slashed in every part of my body, I hit the ground amid a terrifying crash. Next to the shattered light. He, Sevinc, Sevim and a deaf blond kid are all laughing at me as if they were all one face, covered with blood, looking back at me perhaps in the mirrors or on the floor, or in my mind…….”
Get the picture?
I guess it’s a book about politics and tyranny and irrationality. But maybe it’s just the diary of a madman. That’s what I think, although that doesn’t appear to be what anyone else concludes. For this reason, I think I must be right.