Friday, 11 May 2012

Ali and Ramazan - Perihan Magden (Turkey)

Based on a true story, this novel follows Ali and Ramazan, two boys from very different backgrounds who land in the same Istanbul orphanage. They quickly see eye to eye and fall into a loving relationship as children, bringing light to one another and to the other orphans in their dreary adopted home. Ramazan is a charmer, the school master's unfortunate favorite, the clown among the boys, and the only one with access to the world outside the orphanage's walls. He takes na├»ve, sweet, and quietly intelligent Ali under his wing, and together they blossom in a world all their own. However, at age 18 they are released into the streets of Istanbul to find their own way without the support of the state. Faced with an unaccepting world in which they have no one but each other, Ali and Ramazan each make choices that cannot be reversed, with tragic consequences.

I came across this book while trawling the £2.99 and under section on Amazon, and thinking that it sounded an interesting read, decided to download a copy.

When I read the reviews and saw that it was classified as gay and lesbian I wondered whether I had made the right choice, but as I started to read, I found that the fact that the characters are two gay men is really of secondary importance, for this is a book about relationships in general rather than just sex. The fact that the two lead characters are gay is important, yet not important and I found myself wondering whether I would have read this differently had they not been of this persuasion. In the end it not does not matter, for the sexual aspect of their relationship is not the most central part of the book, it is more about the consequences of their love, and how their time in the orphanage affects them both.

When we meet the two boys, Ali and Ramazan, Ramazan who was abandoned as baby outside a mosque is "top dog" at the orphanage, while Ali is newly arrived, having witnessed the murder of his father at his mothers hands, and her own consequent suicide. An immediate bond forms between the two boys, which as they become older, turns to love. Ali has been abused by the Director of the orphanage for years, and as he becomes older, turns to male prostitution in order to earn money, flaunting his love and sexual relationship with Ali in front of the Director in order to make him jealous.

After their discharge from the orphanage and subsequent national service, they eventually move in together. However, years of life at the orphanage have left them totally unprepared for normal life, and they fall into a desperate cycle of co-dependency and abuse - in Ramazan's case continued prostitution, and in Ali's case substance abuse in order to blot out the pain that Ramazan's prostitution causes him to feel.

Almost too late, Ramazan realises how he feels about Ali and how he has mistreated him, having spent the night with a particuarly demanding client whose promise of riches turns out to be false. The inevitable happens - Ramazan snaps and stabs the man through the heart. In his rush to escape he falls from a sixth floor balcony and plunges to his death. When Ali hears of this he hangs himself at the site of a new orphanage, and so the book ends.     

The book is harrowing in places, and and despite their crimes, one is left in no doubt that the real crime is the one which was perpetrated against both of them, i.e. the way in which they were treated and ostracised by Turkish society. The damage, although perpetuated by themselves, was not really of their making, as the abuse they suffered while at the orphanage was what led them down this path in the first place. This then is more of an indictment of the Turkish orphanage system than anything else.

Author Perihan Magden was born in Istanbul and has written several novels in addition to her regular column in Turkish daily, Radikal. She is an honorary member of British PEN and winner of the Grand Award for Freedom of Speech by the Turkish Publishers Association.

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