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Altan, a prominent Turkish journalist, has been locked up by his authoritarian government since 2016. His prison memoir, I Will Never See the World Again (2019), is a master class in courage in a time of corruption. This novel, published in Turkish in 2001, is the second book in The Ottoman Quartet, a complex story involving authoritarianism, freedom of speech, political philosophy, and sexual politics, taking place during a time of open warfare in the early 20th century. Our guide to the story is Osman, a middle-aged man living in contemporary Turkey who can see and hear the dead, or at least personal versions of his family history from a century ago. He can’t really admit that to anyone, so he keeps to himself as much as he can. In Altan’s version of his country’s history, there are a lot of powerful players. His Majesty the Sultan Abdulhamid II, who has reigned since 1876, always poses a threat. Reşit Pasha, the personal doctor to the sultan, is a fearful but also dangerous character, and there are also a variety of children, relatives, and disciples all working their own angles. That’s not to mention a few menacing women, including Mihrişah Sultan, an Ottoman princess. The book is comparable to Vikram Chandra’s Sacred Games (2006), not only in terms of its scope, but also in the depths of its characterization and the visceral tensions between characters. Osman’s connection with the dead brings in that little touch of magical realism that makes things cool. The political war games that constantly surround the crown give everything an extra bit of palpable menace. This book is just as piercing as the first in the series, Like a Sword Wound (2018), and readers would be well served by reading that one first.

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