The Garden of the Departed Cats by Bilge Karasu

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Synopsis

A surreal, utterly unique Turkish novel.

In an ancient Mediterranean city, a tradition is maintained: every ten years an archaic game of human chess is staged, the players (visitors versus locals) bearing weapons. This archaic game, the central event of The Garden of the Departed Cats, may prove as fatal as the deadly attraction our narrator feels for the local man who is the Vizier, or Captain, of the home team. Their "romance" (which, though inconclusive, magnetizes our protagonist to accept the Vizier's challenge to play) provides the skeletal structure of this experimental novel. Each of their brief interactions works as a single chapter. And interleaved between their chapters are a dozen fable-like stories. The folk tale might concern a 13th-century herbal that identifies a kind of tulip, a "red salamander," which dooms anyone who eats it to never tell a lie ever again. Or the tale might be an ancient story of a terrible stoat-like creature that feeds for years on the body of whomever it sinks its claws into, like guilt. These strange fables work independently of the main narrative but, in curious and unpredictable ways, (and reminiscent of Primo Levi's The Periodic Table), they echo and double its chief themes: love, its recalcitrance, its cat-like finickiness, and its refusal to be rushed.

With many strata to mine, The Garden of the Departed Cats is a work of peculiar beauty and strangeness, the whole layered and shiny like a piece of mica.
 

About Bilge Karasu

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Bilge Karasu (1930-1995) was born in Istanbul. Often referred to as "the sage of Turkish literature," during his lifetime he published collections of stories, novels, and two books of essays. Karasu is an influential reference point in the progress of Turkish fiction writing. A perfectionist, a philosopher, and a master of literary arts, he left behind a body of work, which, although intricately woven and at times obscure, skillfully outlines a world unmatched in its crystal clear transparency.Karasu's novel, Night, was published in English translation by Louisiana State University Press in 1994 and was awarded the Pegasus Prize for Literature. Death In Troy is the second of his works translated in English and was published by City Lights in 2002. Karasu's The Garden of Departed Cats, was published by New Directions in 2004. Aron Aji, a native of Turkey, has translated works by several Turkish authors in addition to Bilge Karasu including Murathan Mungan, Elif Shafak, Nedim Gursel , and Latife Tekin.  He is the recipient of the 2004 National Translation Award for his translation of Karasu's The Garden of Departed Cats, and a 2006 National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellowship in support of the translation of A Long Day's Evening.  A member of the American Literary Translators Association, Aji holds a PhD in comparative literature, serves as dean of the college of arts and sciences at St. Ambrose University, and is a visiting professor at the University of Iowa's MFA program in Translation.  City Lights has previously published another of Aji's translations, Karasu's Death in Troy.
 
Published January 12, 2004 by New Directions. 240 pages
Genres: Literature & Fiction. Fiction

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An adventurer crossing a vast plain learns that “One must turn as a wheel, and move forward.” The reader gradually infers the relevance of these cryptic revelations of commitment, uncertainty, yearning, and self-understanding—and both the novel’s structure (which, we’ve begun to suspect, represen...

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