Like a Sword Wound (Ottoman Quartet)

Written by Ahmet Altan
Review by Viviane Crystal

This first book in the Ottoman Quartet is set in the late 19th century and early 20th century in Turkey. An absolute Sultan rules and maintains his control by having his government leaders (pashas) spy on each other, issue defamatory reports to the Sultan, and thus control each other, as well as the common people, by constant fear. Osman, a modern Turk, narrates the story by telling about his conversations with dead ghosts. They include Osman’s grandfather, the personal doctor of the Sultan, a childhood friend, and his son. The most erotic and exotic part of the story has to do with Mehari Hanim, the first wife of Osman’s great-grandfather and later the Sultan’s physician; she intrigues all with her insatiable bestowal of sex, not only with her husband but also a French governess, and the rumors that flow therein. This portion of the narrative adds a surrealistic quality. The remainder of the novel concerns the deterioration of the Empire as the pashas begin to battle with each other and the financial stability of the nation collapses. The reader will be startled to realize that it was not other nations that led to the demise of Turkey but its own internal disorder. The other aspect deserving attention is the Turkish passion for delicious food, rich and sexy clothing, exotic dancing, and insistence on a code of behavior that maintains devotion but does not hide deviance. This is remarkable historical fiction written by an author who is spending his entire life imprisoned for supposedly being part of a coup in 2017. A remarkable story about a fascinating part of Turkish history.