April 2024
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Review: Songs My Mother Never Taught Me, Selcuk Altun

With his mother dead, Arda can finally relax and look back on his life.  When he was fourteen, his father was assassinated, but Arda doesn’t seem to regret this very much at first, too busy relaxing in the lap of wealth and luxury.  Meanwhile, the assassin Bedirhan, living in the same city, has decided to give up his job.  As the story unfolds, we learn that Bedirhan was the man who murdered Arda’s father, but that they have a surprising amount in common.  When Arda’s life is in danger, only the clues provided by his parents’ friend Selcuk Altun will lead him to his father’s killer and the answers that he desperately craves.

I’m afraid this book gets a solid “meh” from me.  Quotes on the back of the book promise “a brilliantly edgy, witty thriller” and a deep insight into life in Istanbul.  I didn’t feel that I got either of those things; certainly the book was not very exciting until the very end.  At one point, Arda is nearly raped and murdered, saved by a mysterious gunman, but I wasn’t particularly worried about him.  I was, rather, annoyed at his musings regarding his youthful crush and probably wouldn’t have minded if he’d kicked the bucket in such a violent way.  This is even more the case when we learn that his father actually slept with said youthful crush.  Color me disgusted with the book; not even a compelling narrative and I have to read about pedophilia?  

That isn’t to say I felt more sympathy for the other narrator, Bedirhan, because I didn’t.  I actually had a hard time distinguishing between the two.  The prose isn’t exactly distinct, which may be either the author or the translator’s fault, or my own for not reading carefully enough, and the only signal of the change is an A or a B as a chapter heading.  I did not get this at first, I thought that the chapters might be lettered rather than numbered.  Silly me, yes, but also confusing when I finally realized someone else was talking!

Were I interested in this book in a literary sense, I think I could have pulled a lot out of it.  There is, for one thing, the contrast between the character of Selcuk Altun and the author of the book Selcuk Altun.  What is his motive in putting himself here, especially given that the book is written in first person?  Secondly, there is a frequent mention of a book entitled Songs My Mother Taught Me.  Clearly, given Arda’s abrasive relationship with his mother, this one is easily explained with regards to the title.  I’m not, however, very interested in a book that is hard to enjoy without picking it apart.  I do enjoy literary fiction with a deeper meaning, but not if the book is impenetrable otherwise, and for me, this one was a very difficult read.

I would like to conclude this review, however, with the last line of the book.  Don’t worry, it gives nothing away:

I thought that only film stars shed tears with their eyes shut.

I don’t know why that line caught me, but it did, and so I thought I’d share.

Available via IndieBound, Powell’s, Amazon, and Amazon UK.


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