Buy it here:
A fiercely imaginative debut story collection by “a startling talent who can seemingly do anything” (Anthony Marra) explores the lives of ordinary people in Turkey to reveal how even individual acts of resistance have extraordinary repercussions.
“No recent collection has captivated me as much as I Am My Country. You must read it!”—Andrew Sean Greer
Spanning decades and landscapes, from the forests along the Black Sea to the streets of Istanbul, Kenan Orhan’s playful stories conjure dreamlike worlds—of talking animals, flying houses, and omniscient prayer-callers—to examine humanity’s unfaltering pursuit of hope in even the darkest circumstances.
A determined florist trains a neighborhood stray dog to blow up a corrupt president. A garbage collector finds banned instruments—and later, musicians—in the trash and takes them home to form a clandestine orchestra in her attic. A smuggler risks his life to bring a young woman claiming to be pregnant via immaculate conception across the border with Syria. A poor cage-maker tries to use his ability to talk to birds to woo his childhood love just before the 1955 Istanbul pogrom. These characters are united by a desperate yearning to break free from the volatile realities they face: rising authoritarianism, cultural and political turmoil, and staggering violence.
Ranging from the absurd to the tenderhearted, the stories in I Am My Country illuminate the constant force amid one country’s history of rampant oppression and revolutionary progress: the impulse to survive.
I Am My Country, the debut short story collection by Kenan Orhan, has ten stories with common theme of war and government oppression. All of the stories are centered around a tumultuous Turkish political climate, and the way that the citizens adjust to their new circumstances. I do not know anything about this, the government of Turkey or the wars and coups that the Turkish people have endured. I only have these stories as a reference. With a mixture of stories that use elements of fables and magical realism, and some taunt and fantastic writing, I understand how the citizens feel. These stories do in a short period of time what many novels take hundreds of pages to do: draw us into the world, make us understand, and make us feel empathy for the characters.
All of these stories are good in their own ways. A few that I like best:
“The Beyoğlu Municipality Waste Management Orchestra” opens the collection with a woman who works as a trash collector. She starts to find musical instruments then musicians in the garbage on her route. She collects them and has an orchestra in her attic, something that is banned with the new government.
“Mule Brigade” A story where mostly reluctant soldiers drive into a village to round up and kill the work animals so that the villagers are not using them to smuggle contraband across the border.
“The Birdkeeper’s Moral” A man who catches birds in homemade cages to make a living runs into a girl whom he loved decades earlier. He tries to find a way to impress her, with the help from an owl who is giving him advice.
Many of these stories are set up like fables, but most of them end as cautionary tales. Orhan’s ability to paint a picture of the world that is crumbling around the character’s feet, while the characters mostly remain hopeful for the future, makes I Am My Country really stick out. It has been a long time since I have read a collection quite as powerful and moving as this one.
I received this as an ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.