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In the Shadow of the Yali
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A- : pulp romance, exceptionally well done
See our review for fuller assessment.
The complete review's Review:
In the Shadow of the Yali tells a very simple story: thirty-five-year-old Celile, married for ten years to Ahmet, finds herself swept off her feet and falling head over heels in love with Muhsin, and they begin an affair that ultimately leads to the dissolution of her marriage, with Celile then throwing her lot in entirely with Muhsin.
That's pretty much it.
The appeal of the novel comes with the relentless breathlessness of the telling, and the determined near-single-mindedness of each of the three central characters, along with their overheated passion.
There was no one for her to play with, no one remotely her age. She grew up in solitude.This ghostly, collapsing mansion is, however, the only home she knows, and, as the men in her life will come to realize, she never truly escaped that formative experience:
She really was the child of that forty-room yalı, cut off from the real world and floating in its own legend.Ahmet is the first man to sweep her off her feet, and she really does find happiness with him. When they marry, he was still: "just a little bank clerk of limited means", but they have fun together and Celile is happy. She does make clear that she does not want children -- and Ahmet readily accepts this: "What do I need children for ? You're my everything. All I want is you". Indeed, Ahmet worships his beautiful wife -- and despite all the attention she receives from other men, Celile is perfectly happy with this arrangement. Indeed:
Celile dd not deign to notice the world around her. jewels did not interest her, fortunes failed to impress. She acted as if she already possessed all the wealth in the world.Alas, Ahmet is determined to offer her more. He wants to be able to shower her with everything she could desire -- failing to understand what it is she really appreciates. His limited, small-minded thinking, and humble background have him believing that money is the answer to everything:
For him happiness meant money. And he wanted to give his wife everything money could buy. He wanted her to live in luxury, bedecked with jewels that were beyond other women's dreams. That was his idea of bliss.Celile couldn't care less for luxuries, but dutifully goes along with it. Ahmet is ambitious and determined, and strikes out on his own; he becomes a successful businessman who can afford more and more of the extravagances that he believes will please Celile. He's doing it only for her -- even though she doesn't get much out of it (which he remains oblivious to). Unfortunately, devoting himself to business and making it succeed means he has less time for Celile -- and the joyous time they used to have together.
As Ahmet's wealth and position in society grow, there is a shift in their relationship:
Without a doubt, he was no longer the man Celile had married. While Celile, against all odds, had remained the same. Nothing about her changed. She still had the same quiet smile and refined manner.Friends introduce them to Muhsin, a man from one of the country's leading families, with a fortune of his own. Ahmet knows that Muhsin could help him make it up the next rungs of the ladder, with even incidental backing enough to help propel Ahmet to much greater successes. Muhsin is open to Ahmet's friendship at first, but immediately put off by him when he realizes that Ahmet is angling to use Muhsin for his own ends; he'd immediately break off the budding relationship if it were not for Ahmet's wife, whom he is immediately completely taken by.
Muhsin senses that Celile is interested in him as well as he presses his suit -- but can't get rid of the suspicion that she is only feigning interest in order to help her husband -- that Ahmet is essentially dangling her in front of Muhsin in order to cement their business-ties. In fact, the very idea is beyond either Ahmet or Celile: Ahmet is completely convinced of his wife's undying devotion to him and can't imagine that she would show interest in another man, while Celile remains oblivious to the idea that pleasing Muhsin might benefit her husband.
Celile and Muhsin have an affair -- even as Muhsin continues to have his doubts about her motives, unable to convince himself that a woman could bring such shame on her husband if not in order to take advantage of the situation and see to it that he benefits (financially) from the arrangement. Ahmet remains oblivious to what is happening, buoyed by the business-success he now has, even as Celile suddenly insists on separate bedrooms and becomes ever more remote; he loves her as passionately as always, and is blind to how she is slowly withdrawing from him. Soon the whole city knows of the affair -- and Ahmet remains clueless.
When Muhsin finally commits to Celile, and she breaks with Ahmet, Ahmet at first truly can not believe it. It takes a while for it to sink in, and he never gets over it, the unthinkable betrayal destroying him. Muhsin, meanwhile, continues to struggle with Celile's motivation: he simply can not believe that she is moved only by love. He is madly in love with her -- but finds, still and always:
Muhsin had never trusted this woman. And he never would. There were, to be sure, times when his doubts were numbed, but those moments quickly passed. His suspicions never left him.He even holds the fact that: "she left her husband without showing the slightest compassion or consideration" against her -- unable to comprehend that that unfeelingness was only due to her being entirely enthralled only by him.
Muhsin loves her, too, but her character baffles him:
She was so passive and so indifferent to the world that there were times when Muhsin wondered if she ever thought at all.Ahmet can not let go of his hurt -- or rather lets go of it by denouncing his wife and her lover to all and sundry. Celile is completely indifferent to public -- indeed, anyone's -- opinion, but Muhsin can't help but care about appearances, and this too is wearing:
Ahmet's antics had made him the talk of the town. Everywhere Muhsin went, a cloud of gossip followed him, and it was causing him great disquiet. So much so that the happiness in Celile's company was beginning to pall.Celile gives herself entirely to Muhsin, believing that love can triumph over all, but even she comes to see that Muhsin can not entirely let go of some of his other concerns. She commits to him fully, yet what she gets in return is ultimately perhaps not that idealized version of love that she had so long clung to; by the end, the reality of her situation slowly begins to sink in .....
On the one hand:
This was not a legendary love story. It was a scandal pure and simple, a misadventure that sent gossip and dirty jokes rippling across Istanbul, Ankara, and even Izmir.Yet In the Shadow of the Yali is also all -- even ultra -- romance, its three main characters each single-mindedly passionate in their own ways -- ways that ultimately leave love crumbling. Ahmet worships his wife, but undoes his happy relationship with her by wanting to provide her with more, material goods she has no interest in. Muhsin can't rid himself of the idea that Celile has other motives for being with him, incapable of believing that hers is a pure, true love, without any ulterior motives. And Celile's devotion is so blind as to be practically otherworldy -- as she remains incapable of seeing, much less understanding, her husband and then her lover's real-life concerns.
In outline, In the Shadow of the Yali is overheated melodrama -- but the novel itself even goes way beyond that, heat- and otherwise. From the melancholy opening scene, Derviş ratchets up the story, notch by notch. The telling is relentlessly breathless, quick sequences of paragraphs of generally short sentences -- often just single-sentence paragraphs. The presentation of the characters' blind spots, and especially how fixed these are, even as all the evidence to the contrary is right in front of their eyes, is particularly effective. Happiness is there for Ahmet and then Muhsin's taking, if they so choose -- but their natures get in the way. And poor Celile simply can't communicate in a way to make herself understood.
The society of the times, and its rules, is a significant background: Celile can remain almost oblivious to it, but neither Ahmet nor Muhsin are able to. Ahmet knows he married above him -- and that, for all his business success, he is a mere arriviste. Meanwhile, no matter how passionate old money Muhsin is about Celile, he can't help but care about his social standing and position.
Derviş brings the novel to a beautiful close, too, with the truth about Celile's situation finally sinking, terribly, in for her, leaving her torn between a last desperate action or a crushing acceptance. (Ahmet's final, almost delirious and very public revenge is also a very nice cruel twist -- and, of course, yet again too much for Muhsin, who cares too much about the opinion of others -- and wonders, yet again, about Celile's indifference to it.)
In the Shadow of the Yali has a pulp-romance feel, and is almost ridiculously exaggerated -- and yet, it works. Much is over the top -- like the scene where one of the characters breaks out weeping: "Like some demented woman ..." (and: "This crying continued for another quarter of an hour. A half hour at most"): Celile ? Hardly: it's Ahmet .....
In its outlines, and even piece by breathless piece, In the Shadow of the Yali often verges on the ridiculous. And yet there's undeniable power to it; it's riveting, even. It's a strange piece of work, but quite remarkable what Derviş has done.
- M.A.Orthofer, 21 September 2021
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Turkish author Suat Derviş (Suat Derwish) lived 1905 to 1972.
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