The misdirection starts with the novel’s cover. Hasan Ali Toptas’s Shadowless is, in spite of its title, full of shadows.
The ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus once observed that “seekers for gold dig much earth, but find little gold.”
The Circassian sounds like the name of a film; there’s more than enough material here for one. Eşref Bey, or Eşref Kuşçubaşı or any of the other names by which he went, played many roles in his life: brigand, family man, military leader, spy, rebel. He crossed paths if not quite swords with TE Lawrence—Lawrence of Arabia—with whom he is sometimes compared. But in spite of Eşref’s fame—or notoriety—information on him seems hard to come by in English; he does not even seem (at this writing) to have a Wikipedia page.
A few weeks ago in front of Lincoln Center in New York, while Women in The World Summit was about to start, a woman who seemed to like she could move mountains called Tina Brown was telling me, “I very much liked your description… What was it? ‘Having a sword fight with the ghosts’.”
Madonna in a Fur Coat has a backstory almost as long as the novel itself. “When it was first published in Istanbul in 1943,” wrote Maureen Freely, one of the two translators of the recent English-language edition, in the Guardian, “it made no impression whatsoever.”
There aren’t many advantages to waiting for almost fifty years for a novel to appear in translation, but at least one be pretty certain that the book has stood the test of time. Turkish writer Yusuf Atılgan’s Motherland Hotel dates from 1973. It was made into an award-winning film in 1986. The translator Fred Stark completed a translation in 1977, but it appears—a note in a review in Turkey’s Hürriyet newspaper to the contrary notwithstanding—not to have ever been published until this edition. The thought of the manuscript sitting in a drawer for the better part forty years is good mental preparation for this short, claustrophobic book.
In Turkey: The Insane and the Melancholy, political commentator Ece Temelkuran invites the reader to draw up a chair as she attempts to untangle the complicated, often contradictory, nature of her country’s current political environment.