In Disquiet a brief tragic love affair illuminates the plight of Yezidi refugees, surviving genocide only to be subjected to prejudice, indifference and rejection in their would-be safe haven across the Turkish border. Disquiet is a plea for a better understanding of our commonality rather than the ongoing exploitation of our divisions. This is a brief, thought-provoking novel that couldn’t be more relevant for our times.
The journalists at a newspaper’s editorial meeting are inured to images of violence, horrific accidents and what are called ‘common occurrences’: femicides. The more sensational the photograph, the better it satisfies readers’ macabre fascination with crime. But then someone mentions that a thirty-two year old Turkish man has been stabbed to death by neo-Nazis in Duisburg, Germany. His name is Hussein Yilmaz and he’s from Mardin, near the Turkish border with Syria, and it turns out he was once the best friend of one of the journalists, Ibrahim. How did Hussein’s life end this way? What begins as journalistic curiosity is soon a quest for something heartfelt and profound: ‘It was as if all the anguish of Mesopotamia had descended on the city with the darkness.’
Ibrahim returns to his hometown, Mardin, to find it unrecognisable. The resilient residents – descendants of the Mesopotamia with all its turbulent history – are worn down by recent events. The first-hand experience of life here is shocking for Ibrahim, even though he has been aware of the devastation wrought by the nearby war.
Hussein’s story also surprises him: alienated from his family and the girl he was expected to marry, Hussein became an aid worker at the refugee camp for survivors of the ISIS caliphate. There he met and fell in love with a Yezidi woman, Meleknaz, a she-devil according to his mother. Meleknaz’s village was overrun by ISIS – the men and boys killed, and the women raped and sold into slavery. The tragedy of the refugee is that the ordeal isn’t over when they escape. The Yezidi have been persecuted for centuries and are still unwelcome in Turkey, and the West is indifferent to their plight.
Ibrahim discovers that Meleknaz disappeared, and Hussein wound up in Germany, only to experience persecution there. The only way for Ibrahim to understand what led to Hussein’s demise is to find the woman that his friend fell in love with.
Writing in Turkey is a political, often dangerous, act under the current regime. Disquiet is simply an appeal – to understand the people displaced by the Syrian conflict. This very personal tale reflects on the way religion, identity and race are used as reasons to hate; but it also explores the complexity of modern Turkey and of the conflict in Syria, as well misogyny and the seemingly unbridgeable, but manufactured, divide between the peoples of the West and the East. This poignant but ultimately hopeful novel is a well of compassion. A powerful, urgent read.
Reviewed by Paul Burke
by Zülfü Livaneli
Translated from the Turkish by Brendan Freely
Published by Other Press (2021)
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Paul Burke writes The Verdict column for nbmagazine.co.uk, interviews, articles and features for crimefictionlover.com, crimetime.co.uk and presents for Crime Time TV&FM podcast. Paul is a book collector, lover of literature in translation and a crime fiction aficionado.
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