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Buket Uzuner: Kumral Ada Mavi Tuna (Mediterranean Waltz)

The day does not start out well for Duna Atacan, a Turkish high school teacher in Istanbul, married to Merich, a pathologist. He is always an early riser, while she tends to stay in bed late. He collects the newspapers – for some reason more have been delivered than normal – and is horrified to read of a succession of wars and killings around the world. He is even more horrified to read that Ada Mercan, the woman dearest to his heart of any woman in the world (his wife and mother included), has confessed to a murder. He phones her but there is a message on the answering machine from her to him saying Farewell. However, before he can react to the event a couple of soldiers arrive at his door. He had been hearing a lot of noise of planes overhead and wondered why. The soldiers tell him that there is a civil war going on and he has been called up. They are there to take him to army barracks as he is a reservist. The rest of the book, in alternate chapters, explains the story of Ada, Duna, Merich and others and also what happened to Duna after being called up.

Duna, his older brother, Aras, and their parents, live in Kuzguncuk, Istanbul. The father is a tailor, a family tradition. A new family buys the mansion there. They are Sureyva Mercan and Pervin Gokay, both famous actors. Duna is five years old at the time. One day, he decides to explore and goes to the mansion. There he meets a seven-year old girl, Ada. They immediately hit it off, even when Aras appears over the garden wall, nominally to protect his brother.

We follow the story, as the three grow up together. Aras is dashing and good-looking and Ada is soon smitten by him. Nevertheless, she remains very close to Duna and he, of course, is smitten by her but not over-jealous of his brother, not least because he has always looked up to Aras. It seems clear from an early age that Aras and Ada are going to be together and, despite Aras’ ordinary background, her parents do not object.

There is an addition to the threesome. Merich is Ada’s cousin and her parents have fallen out and she has come to live with the family. It is soon apparent to everyone but Duna that Merich is attracted to Duna but she is too self-effacing to show it openly. Indeed, when they finally reach adulthood, it is openly suggested that Duna and Merich marry. However, whenever there seems to be any closeness between the two, Duna rejects her.

As well as the immediate families, a key player is Dogan Gokay, Ada’s uncle and a famous poet. He influences all four of the younger generation and they all look up to him. In particular, we learn, at the end of the book, that he is to write a novel about the four called Mediterranean Waltz.

Of course, everything goes wrong. We know from the beginning of the book that Ada does marry Merich but that he is still very close to Ada. We also learn that Ada goes somewhat off the rails. Right at the end of the book, Uzuner gives a summary of the main characters, sometimes just a brief description but, in the case of the main characters, their take on things, and both Ada and Merich seem to be somewhat jealous of one another. All is, of course, explained at the end, including the murder.

However, while we have been following this story, we have also been following the story of Duna’s time in the army. That, too, inevitably does not go too well. Duna soon becomes convinced that this is not really happening to him – the transfer in an uncomfortable vehicle to the wilds of Anatolia, his capture, first by a small family and then by a terrorist group, and the death of various people, as well as his close relationship with the general. He feels that the whole thing is a nightmare, from which he will soon wake up. This is confirmed by the fact that everywhere he goes, including the wilds of Anatolia, he keeps bumping into people he knew from his childhood. They seem far less surprised to see him than he is to see them. Of course, this makes the story somewhat surrealistic as we are never sure if the events are happening or just a dream, not least because characters who are killed suddenly re-emerge unscathed. It is certainly an interesting approach to dealing with a war.

The book suddenly veers off course at the end. As well as the the summary of all the main characters mentioned above, there is a penultimate chapter, called The Future of the Future and Cybernetic Warfare, which plunges into the future (robots, genetic mapping, nanotechnology) only to slip back into the present as Duna wakes from his nightmare.

This is not a feminist book but, particularly in the summary at the end, we learn that most of the married women have suffered at the hands of their husbands. Infidelity is the main cause but certainly not the only one.

The title of the book in Turkish translates as Brunette Ada, Blue Duna. This is something of a play on words as Tuna is the Turkish for the Danube and Duna is frequently called Blue Danube by his family. Indeed, the coupling Brunette Ada, Blue Duna is also used by the family, as the two are often together.

Uzuner has been described as the next Orhan Pamuk. She isn’t. No-one is. However, this is a very fine novel. It is a bit scattered in approach but we get there in the end. It is published by a Turkish publisher and there are numerous typos as well as grammatical infelicities but that does not detract too much from the novel. I suspect the fact that the book was published by a Turkish publisher has meant that it did not get the coverage and promotion it might had had with a UK or US publisher, though it is readily available, as are her other books published in English.

Publishing history

First published by Remzi Kitabevi in 1997
First published in English by Remzi Kitabevi in 2000
Translated by Pelin Arıner