cover image Life’s Good, Brother

Life’s Good, Brother

Nazim Hikmet, trans. from the Turkish by Mutlu Konuk Blasing. Persea, $17.95 (192p) ISBN 978-0-89255-418-8

Initially published in Turkey in 1964, this novel by one of the country’s greatest poets portrays a chaotic time between wars in justifiably haphazard fashion. It’s 1925, and young communists Ahmet and Ismail have cached themselves in a cottage in the small town of Izmir. Ahmet’s paranoid cousin, a former member of the Young Turks, arrives, bringing with him memories of the Great Fire of Smyrna three years prior, when Izmir burned to the ground, effectively ending the Greco-Turkish War. During an excursion, Ahmet is bitten by a potentially rabid dog but refuses to seek treatment. While he imagines a 50% chance of getting rabies, “the chance the doctor will inform the police is one hundred percent.” So Ahmet stays put, counting days in anticipation of the sickness. Throughout this ordeal, the narrative skips around in time and voice. We hear of Ahmet’s student days in Moscow, his affection for a woman, and the rivalry with her other suitor, a Chinese student. We also learn of Ismail’s later ordeal as a political prisoner, the vivid details of which are the book’s strongest feature. Although reflective of the turbulent era, the back-and-forth structure weakens narrative cohesion, especially considering how little there is to distinguish the inner lives of the characters. However, many graceful gems outweigh the faults, making it worth the time. (May)