Black Sky, Black Sea, By Izzet Celasin, trans. Charlotte Barslund

The struggle between peaceful protest and taking up arms is distilled in this Turkish debut

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The Independent Culture

Based on real events, Black Sky, Black Sea is set during a particularly bleak time in Turkey's past that many will remember with regret and sorrow. Izzet Celasin is a Turkish refugee who was imprisoned after the 1980 military coup and then fled to Norway.

He has turned his experiences into an absorbing and illuminating novel and is eloquent on political struggle and what leads peaceful protestors to make harsh choices or take up arms. There is much to admire in Celasin's debut, not least that it was written in Norwegian, his adopted language, and is seamlessly translated by Charlotte Barslund.

This is and Celasin's protagonist, nicknamed Oak by his schoolfriends because "it was no use trying to reason with a tree", is young, idealistic and an aspiring poet. Like any ordinary teenager, Oak is experimenting with love and politics, but becomes obsessed with Zuhal, a female left-wing activist. As civil unrest erupts in Istanbul, they go their separate ways – Zuhal follows the path of armed resistance while Oak remains a pacifist. As an undergraduate, Oak discovers that students are targeted regardless of their politics. He narrowly escapes being tortured, survives a random shooting at his university, and it quickly becomes impossible for him to finish his studies.

Part of the novel's fascination lies in the characters Oak encounters: Ahmet, a vegetable wholesaler and "likeable villain"; the female professor who inspires and protects him and Soldier, the manager of a casino and strip joint.

Given the civil protests taking place today, this is a timely novel. Celasin makes the daily battles between left-wing activists and nationalists, the murder of students, and the brutal suppression of dissidents into a page-turner that will resonate with readers both inside and outside Turkey.

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