Sabahattin Ali’s ‘Madonna in a Fur Coat’

Madonna_in_a_fur_coat_portraitMaureen Freely at The Guardian:

When it was first published in Istanbul in 1943, it made no impression whatsoever. Decades later, when Madonna in a Fur Coat became the sort of book that passed from friend to friend, the literary establishment continued to ignore it. Even those who greatly admired the other works of Sabahattin Ali viewed this one as a puzzling aberration. It was just a love story, they said – the sort that schoolgirls fawned over. And yet, for the past three years, it has topped the bestseller lists in Turkey, outselling Orhan Pamuk. It is read, loved and wept over by men and women of all ages, but most of all by young adults. And no one seems able to explain quite why.

The story begins in 1930s Ankara, the Turkish Republic’s newly appointed capital. The narrator has fallen on hard times, and it is only with the help of a crass and belittling former classmate that he is able to find work as a clerk at a firm trading in lumber. Here he meets the sickly, affectless Raif Bey, who is, we’re told, “the sort of man who causes us to ask ourselves: “What do they live for? What do they find in life? What logic compels them to keep breathing?” When at last they make friends, it becomes clear that Raif’s reason for living cannot be his family. The relatives assembled under his roof treat him with the utmost contempt. And yet he welcomes their derision. Even on his deathbed, he seems to accept it as his due. But there is also a notebook, hidden in his desk drawer at work, which he asks his friend to destroy.

more here.