cover image Serenade for Nadia

Serenade for Nadia

Zülfü Livaneli, trans. from the Turkish by Brendan Freely. Other, $17.99 trade paper (416p) ISBN 978-1-63542-016-6

A 36-year-old divorcée working at Istanbul University draws inspiration from an 87-year-old visiting professor’s recollections of WWII in this affecting novel about love, loss, and personal identity from Livaneli (Bliss). When octogenarian Max Wagner returns to Istanbul after a 59-year absence to lecture at the university where he once taught, narrator Maya Duran has the job of escorting him around the city. Maya accompanies Max on an out-of-town expedition to a beach by the Black Sea, site of the 1942 sinking of the Struma, a ship filled with Jewish refugees, including Max’s wife, Nadia. There, Max plays his composition, “Serenade for Nadia,” on the violin. Back in Istanbul, despite Maya’s brother’s warnings against dredging up the past, Maya records Max’s account of emigrating from Germany to Turkey in 1939 along with his desperate attempts to arrange for Nadia to join him. Maya also learns how her grandmothers—one Armenian, one Crimean Turk—assumed false identities to survive acts of brutal repression. Their experiences and Nadia’s inspire Maya to find the courage to declare her independence, defy her brother, and tell the world Max’s story. Livaneli smoothly switches between 2001 and 1938–1942, offering insights into Turkey’s rich cultural, political, ethnic, and religious divides. Livaneli’s worthy portrait of a man coming to terms with his tragic past and a woman coming to terms with her Turkish heritage delivers a forceful plea for openness and tolerance. (Mar.)