Book review: “More” by Hakan Günday, translated by Zeynep Beler

The innocence in a little boy’s vision as he helps out with his despotic father’s solitary and secretive business of human trafficking on Turkey’s Aegean Coast had the potential for the kind of comedic tragedy of soulful learing in the midst of the vilest of recent human history. There was, however, no comic relief in this story of the middleman  in what Hakan Günday describes in his novel as the “Illegal immigration transportation [that] had become indistinguishable from the slave trade”. As neither another the story of collapse in Asia or Africa, nor one of the many stories of immigration in Europe or America, More, translated to English by Zeynep Beler, arrested my attention.

And this story of how the middlemen are also victims kept my attention, despite being a flawed and too disturbing a book to say that it was liked. One had better like or at least be intrigued enough by a protagonist telling you his story for almost 400 pages. But it is an uncomfortable feeling not to like a child, so there were soon feelings of guilt when I did not like this child. For nor matter how much of a victim he was — unloved and caught in a world where we can neither keep friends nor develop his gifted brilliance — he was also a villain capable of inflicting the greatest of evil.

The tragedy of child refugees is the how someone so young can accumulate so much past. In case of our young protagonist navigating alone in a sea of corruption and ineptitude, he claws at reconciling the violence he both suffered and inflicted with a past that was not even his: it belongs to the mystery of his father and the mother he never knew — the crushing weight of all this baggage sending him into acute psychological disorder and directions unimagined, constantly walking backwards despite attempts to move into a future.

That is where the intrigue began: the contemplation of just how much nature and how much nurture is involved in the creation of monsters of this world. This is a great and uncomfortable question as it puts our human ability for empathy in check. It also made it possible to withstand the amateurish narrative, replete with incessant ellipses and passages I found myself skimming over, for they were neither poetic nor adding anything as unrelated intellectual tangents of interest to the author, unconvincingly disguised as part of the young boy’s brilliance.

Despite such flaws, the novel held much learning about a human crisis that is happening at this very moment, all around us, disturbingly and successfully placed within your vision.  Sometimes you have to just stick with narratives however disagreeable, like eating things you don’t like that are good for you. This message of human complexity, in which the duality of good and bad people is annihilated to reveal the paradox of the individual that is at the same time both innocent and evil, victim and torturer, is more important than ever this moment of political division among people.

 

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A native of Chicago, Ricky Toledano has lived in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil for over twenty years as a writer, translator and teacher. [a]multipicity is multi-lingual collection of reflections through the humanities.

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