Lead Review (Dying is easier than Loving)
- Book: Dying is Easier than Loving
- Location: Istanbul (Constantinople)
- Author: Ahmet Altan, Brendan Freely (Translator)
The book uses a device whereby the character Osman learns details of ancestors’ lives. Their stories are revealed to him in much the same way as replies to questions from a journalist (which of course was the author’s profession). This enables them to describe their most intimate emotions, as experienced at the time of events but also as analysed by them over the years since they occurred. In this way Osman is able to hear the perspectives of the ghosts of several generations of his family. Under normal circumstances he would have been a child when these ancestors were alive – or perhaps some characters pre-deceased him, so it’s an interesting form of poetic licence.
The loving referred to in the title explores the relationships between women and men, but also between parents and children and between siblings and friends. The reference to dying relates to the ongoing war between the forces of the declining Ottoman Empire and Bulgaria.
It begins with Nizam returning to Istanbul from Paris in disgrace. At the same time the deposed Sultan returns from exile. The book examines the philosophy and politics of the time and I’m guessing it’s also a subtle commentary on more recent times, with its focus on the futility of war and the division of Turkish society into factions. The plot describes the stories of several generations more or less simultaneously. It even gives away some of what will happen to the character later, “He didn’t know that later…”.
There’s a deeply analytical exploration of every scene, including people’s emotions, their motivation and even descriptions of how they felt about each situation later in life. The author combines this with sumptuous, richly detailed, poetic descriptions of locations. The city and surrounds of Istanbul are vividly depicted. The book has a tremendously long sentence structure. Apparently this was an attempt by the translator to capture the rhythm of the original Turkish. I found this a bit annoying. Many of the punctuation conventions that an English reader expects are ignored, which is confusing. There are also typographic errors, and UK/US spelling choices are inconsistently applied. The book is still well worth reading but it is a pity that there are issues in a book of this quality.