MANY AND MANY A YEAR AGO by Selcuk Altun

Book Quote:

“A man who has never had an unforgettable woman in his life has not lived, but merely existed on this earth.”

Book Review:

Review by Guy Savage (NOV 4, 2009)

In the delightful, genre defying novel, Many and Many a Year Ago, from Turkish author, Selcuk Altun, Kemal Kuray is the son of the Assistant Cemetery Director–a former sergeant-major who played the tuba in the local air force band. Kemal’s father’s unfulfilled ambitions spill onto his son, and Kemal grows up with the indoctrination that there is “no calling more noble than that of a fighter pilot.” In time, Kemal, forbidden to play with the other children in the neighbourhood, grows up “studious and disciplined,” winning a scholarship to boarding school and eventually accepted into the Turkish Air Force Academy. Graduating with the rank of Lieutenant, Kemal begins flying an F-16 and as a hotshot pilot he is slated to become the “future commander of the Air Force.” A plane crash leaves Kemal injured, depressed and grounded, and his promising career is over before it really began.

Back at Air Force headquarters, Kemal is assigned to a translation project. Here he meets a “mysterious” young man named Suat Altan, and they patch together a relationship of sorts. In time Suat goes his own way while Kemal flounders in the Air Force, too depressed and nervous to fly, and yet not resigned to a life time at a desk job.

Some time later, Kemal is contacted by Suat’s twin brother, Fuat. Fuat tells Kemal a strange story. Suat, now a very wealthy man, but increasingly isolated from the world, and obsessed with Edgar Allan Poe has simply disappeared following the death of his fiancée. Suat has left Kemal a legacy– an apartment in Balat, and the sum of $2.4 million to be disbursed monthly. Kemal’s luck seems to be changing once more, and he resigns from the Air Force and moves to his new apartment in Balat.

What follows is a delightful, playful tale, part mystery, part detective novel, and part literary thriller as Kemal embarks on several “Anatolian wild goose chases.” Kemal, who’s having some problems adjusting to civilian life, finds himself becoming an amateur detective as he looks first for a lost heir and then a lost woman. He travels into the remote regions of Turkey, to the glamorous mystery of Buenos Aires, and eventually to the Baltimore grave of Edgar Allen Poe. Along the way, he encounters many characters who all have their own stories to tell, and some of these stories are various versions of the same events.

Many and Many a Year Ago is a clever, complex puzzle that cannot be read in a hurry but should be absorbed slowly. Nothing is quite what is seems, and the story layers and mysteries form a tableaux of information that all lead to Suat’s obsession with Edgar Allan Poe. In terms of content, Many and Many a Year Ago reminds me of the wonderful novels of Brazilian author Luis Fernando Verissimo. Indeed, Verissimo’s novel Borges and the Eternal Orangutans revolves around an international meeting of Edgar Allen Poe experts. Altun’s novel, however, with its tales within tales, is also reminiscent of the delights of One Thousand and One Nights.

Turkish author Selcuk Altun published his first novel in 2001 at the age of 51. Altun’s fourth novel, and the first to be translated into English is Songs My Mother Never Taught Me. In a highly unusual move, Altun paid for the translation himself, and the novel was subsequently published by U.K. Telegram Books in 2008. Telegram Books then translated and published Many and Many a Year Ago in 2009.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-4-5from 2 readers
PUBLISHER: Telegram Books (September 1, 2009)
REVIEWER: Guy Savage
AMAZON PAGE: Many and Many a Year Ago
AUTHOR WEBSITE: Wikipedia page on Selcuk Altun
EXTRAS: Review of Many and Many a Year Ago

Complete Review of Songs My Mother Never Taught Me

MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: Another Turkish author:

Orhan Pamuk

This book reminds of these authors:

Paul Auster

Luis Fernando Verissimo

Partial Bibliography:


November 4, 2009 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Posted in: 2009 Favorites, Literary, Mystery/Suspense, Translated, Turkey, World Lit

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