A debut story collection of spectacular imaginative range and lyricism from a Pushcart Prize-winning author. In Ayse Papatya Bucak's dreamlike narratives, dead girls recount the effects of an earthquake and a chess-playing automaton falls in love. A student stops eating and no one knows whether her act is personal or political. A Turkish wrestler, a hero in the East, is seen as a brute in the West. The anguish of an Armenian refugee is "performed" at an American fund-raiser. An Ottoman ambassador in Paris amasses a tantalizing collection of erotic art. And in the masterful title story, the Greek god Apollo confronts his personal history and bewails his Homeric reputation as he tries to memorialize, and make sense of, generations of war. A joy and a provocation, Bucak's stories confront the nature of historical memory with humor and humanity. Surreal and poignant, they examine the tension between myth and history, cultural categories and personal identity, performance and authenticity.
I wasn't sure what to expect when I chose this book. The blurb sounded interesting and I like short stories a lot. The very first story floored me. I couldn't get it out of my mind and had to wait until the next day to read the next story. My fear was that the rest of the collection was bound to disappoint since the first story set the bar so high. I was wrong. I think the first story is my favorite but the others were all in the ballpark.
I expect some variance in how I feel about the different stories in a collection. This holds true for essay collections as well. Even though all written by the same hand there are always at least one or two I just couldn't get into. Well, this collection is the exception. Yes, the variance was still there, but the range was not from good to bad but from wow to very good.
To contextualize my feelings about collections in general, let me just explain my views about reading them (short story or essay). While most such books can be a quick read, I prefer to spread them out. I may read several other novels and nonfiction works while reading one short story collection. The exception is when I get one for review purposes. Then I shorten that time, though I try not to read two stories at one sitting. I like to think about what was written as well as what I felt. Having said that, I had to give myself time between some of these stories because they were impactful on more than one level. The character's plight of course, but the role of both personal and cultural or collective history as well. Then the thin line between what is real and what isn't, both in the stories and in my own world.
I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys the short story form. These are not all simple linear stories but neither are they convoluted or confusing. They do, however, demand some thought and attention, but they reward you for giving it. This will particularly appeal to readers who enjoy the interplay between real life and abstract thought.
Reviewed from a copy made available through Goodreads First Reads.