Ali and Ramazan (review)

In Turkey it is not uncommon to end up behind bars without a trial, if an author writes something that does not go along with the moral convictions of the ruling powers. Still, that is what Perihan Mağden does in her new novel, Ali and Ramazan, which became book of the year in Turkey in 2010 and which is being filmed at present. 

She does so by telling the story of lovers Ali and Ramazan, who grow up in Turkey, a country that is utterly seclusive if one is different – no matter whether one is homosexual, Armenian, or socially degraded.

This book is an attempt to give people without a voice, a voice. People who get their say only on page three of the newspapers as speechless corpses. At least that is where Mağden found the inspiration for her real-life-based fictional novel, which tries to question conventions.

Her 190 page long question begins with Ali and Ramazan’s encounter in an orphanage. Already then both had endured the first fate of blows in a fight named life. Ali witnessed how his mother gorily split his alcoholic father’s head in two, before she committed suicide.

Ramazan does not know his parents and dreams almost his entire life of a rich and famous father who will rescue him one day. Although life is not much more promising in the orphanage, where the future misfits of Turkey are raised, they find a panacea: each other.

Still, they are sure not to be “fags”, “they are simply only head over heels in love.” And it is this love that makes the intelligent Ali endure the brutal loss of his parents and the beautiful Ramazan the sexual abuse of his teachers, until they day they get released into a life without any possibilities.

But love seems to be janus-headed. The very same love that keeps them alive, tortures them. In order fend for them both, Ramazan has to patrol the streets as a rent boy. This predicament causes Ali to get addicted to alcohol and sniffing, which again hurts Ramazan who blames himself that Ali will never get a chance in life.

If this was not enough, Istanbul’s streets teach them what it means not to belong. When the police turn Ramazan’s handsome face into a heap of mush, is it just one incident in a life full of punishment and seclusion.

No wonder that this steep road to perdition culminates with Ramazan’s gory death, falling from a balcony after a failed escape attempt. Ali’s consequent suicide is no surprise, for they are one for all eternity.

The fact that Mağden reveals their horrible destiny in the beginning of the novel is, on the hand, almost a literary necessity. On the other hand, it is the only point that removes tension from an otherwise, not spectacular, but sovereign narrated story in terms of its dramaturgy.

The pace is kept lively, especially through the rhythm of the often short sentences, which embody at the same time a short but fast lived life. In addition, Mağden tries, by means of occasional vulgar language, to sustain the authenticity of her story.

This might also be the reason why she writes in present tense. In this manner the story not only seems to be authentic but also acute, as if thousands of other Alis and Ramazans would be going through the same agony right now.

At the same time Mağden uses a factual poetic language, which equilibrates the vulgarity. Her implementation of repetition support the poetic, in order to give the main theme – the blind, egalitarian love – its adequate expression.

Although her language is poetic and her book is certainly a homage to love in whatever embodiment and circumstance, it succeeds in balancing along the thin line between tragic romance and kitsch.

Mağden is not for no reason called one of the most important figures in younger Turkish literature. She succeeded in writing with an ingenuous tone a positively provocative book, which challenges the mindset of a repressive society, where not even love can be a complete remedy.

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