★★★★☆: A pretty but painful tale of suffering, art, self-loathing, and the awe of love.
Penguin asked me to review this book, and I can only conclude that this was a plot to shatter my heart and soul, but you know what? That's fine. They sent it over with a big poster of the author, but sadly I can't use it to mop up all my tears because it's not very absorbent.
This novel tells the story of timid and endlessly suffering Raif Efendi, a young Turkish man in 1920s Berlin. He is a lost soul constantly struggling against his own feelings and personality, which he unrelentingly punishes himself for.
We also meet Maria Puder - a smart, cynical, fearful artist with a deep distrust of men and a buried and buzzing need to be respected, cared for, and loved. She is eccentric, in denial, and a little bit magical - but also quite matter-of-fact.
The story is incredibly emotive and deals with themes of passion, loss, depression, and life's cruel and unfair circumstances. It's reminiscent of Herman Hesse's Steppenwolf in its close and uncomfortable focus on the cycling thoughts and perceptions of a loner and outsider. The writing style takes on similar Hesse-like poetic description and style in its moments of happiness and in intense moments. The book presents an unflinching sense of injustice and despair swirled with streams of pure beauty, sweetness, and an aching love.
It's a storm of tragedy with a pearl in the centre. A smart and heart-wrenching beacon for the sheer force of human suffering, and possibly an allegory for how devastating the effects of oblivious cruelty can be.
An intense and incredible read.