Available in English for the first time, this best-selling Turkish classic of love and alienation in a changing world captures the vibrancy of interwar Berlin.
A shy young man leaves his home in rural Turkey to learn a trade and discover life in 1920s Berlin. There, amidst the city’s bustling streets, elegant museums, passionate politics, and infamous cabarets, a chance meeting with a beautiful half-Jewish artist transforms him forever. Caught between his desire for freedom from tradition and his yearning to belong, he struggles to hold on to the new life he has found with the woman he loves.
Emotionally powerful, intensely atmospheric, and touchingly profound, Madonna in a Fur Coat is an unforgettable novel about new beginnings, the relentless pull of family ties, and the unfathomable nature of the human soul. First published in 1943, this novel, with its quiet yet insistent defiance of social norms, has been topping best-seller lists in Turkey since 2013.
Appearances are not what they seem in Ali's rich novel, first published in Turkey in 1943 and only now appearing in the U.S. A 25-year-old narrator introduces readers to his fellow Turkish clerical worker, Raif Efendi, a somewhat sickly milquetoast whose rich inner life is hinted at in an evocative sketch he draws of their co-worker. After seeing the artwork, the narrator and Efendi who supports a household of unappreciative relatives on a meager translator's salary become close. A deeper story unfolds when Efendi allows the narrator to read a private notebook that documents his strange and wonderful relationship with Maria Puder, a mysterious artist he met in Berlin in 1923. Ali explores Maria and Efendi's complex relationship through Maria's thoughts on the metaphorical and physical boundaries of love, the expectations placed on men and women, the roles they take up or discard, and the choices people make when they are looking for a meaningful relationship. The narrator comes to understand that the outward appearance of Efendi's life as numb and unsatisfying belies its unimaginable depths of feeling and vulnerability. This fascinating story veers in surprising and revealing directions.
A fascinating look
This was a strange little story about a man, Raife Effendi, a quiet mousy depressive little man, a translator for a Turkish company. His co worker tells the story of his death and of the time he felt most alive in his relations with an artist named Maria Puder, the so called “Madonna in a Fur Coat”.
As Effendi comes to the end of his life, he has his co worker clear his desk and bring it all home. In the package is a small notebook that his coworker reads and learns about his friendship with Maria, and meets a whole new Raife empowered by his caring for her. Through this “relationship” we are eyewitnesses to a society coming to grips with ennui and Schaudenfreude during a terrible time in history after the Great War.
This is an small well written book about change, family ties, and how love changes things. This is the first time since it’s original publication in 1943 that it is available in English. Although depressing, it is a hopeful story. I’m not sure if I liked it, but it gave me pause to not dismiss it, and I feel it may haunt me as Maria haunted Raife. 4/5