History of a Madhouse
by Ayfer Tunc
Translated by Feyza Howell
LONGLISTED FOR THE EBRD LITERATURE PRIZE 2021
The novel opens in a provincial mental health hospital on the morning of the 14th February 2007 and comes to a cataclysmic end several hours later Lacklustre guest speaker (‘Love: Self-sacrifice? Or Self-preservation?’) Ülkü Birinci fails to impress the Medical Director, whose plans to write the history of the hospital are destined to remain stillborn. Town elder Türkan, retired judge and staunch Kemalist, leaves him gaping at her photographic archive, grasp of new media, research methods and sheer intelligence. As this literary palimpsest unfolds, the reader travels through time and space, to 1875 and back again, between the Caucasus, Ottoman and Republican Turkey, Europe and the USA, through wars, reform, riots, and coups d’état.
"... we chase through the intriguing corridors of the mental hospital, the icon and the photograph, the narrative voice is not identifiable with a single character or an entity, which aptly enables the observation of multiple, sometimes conflicting, perspectives. .. While there are people who want to make the picture of Turkey one that is devoid of its layers, there are those who can dig into these layers so that they can at least be named in the present. The Highly Unreliable Account of the History of a Madhouse is, in that respect, also a tribute to those people, objects and spaces through which larger-than-life stories are tied together. "
"Ayfer Tunç’s newly translated book The Highly Unreliable History of A Madhouse is good, excellent even. It is bold and innovative; able to balance an unusual structure, a rich cast of characters and a highly non-linear story and somehow provide a novel that is humorous, tragic, profound, epic in scale as well as intimate.”
Luke Frostick Duvar
The Highly Unreliable Account of the History of a Madhouse is an incredible novel that has created worlds within itself. It is unlike anything else and, it perfectly shows Tunç’s genius. You will think and laugh a lot and recommend it to everyone you know. Enjoy!
". . . a terrific satirical take on the tackiness of modern Turkey -- all cheap marble cladding and television soap operas. In fact the novel proceeds a bit like one of these soap operas, with one episode melting into the next. The novel is clearly very funny, although there are sudden swoops into serious territory. . . the syntax is quite stately, literary, and orotund, with noun clauses hanging like bunches of grapes, as in Turkish itself. . . .very lively and entertaining."
John Hodgson, translator
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