The City in Crimson Cloak

By ASLI ERDOGAN

The City in Crimson Cloak is at once the title of an unfinished autobiographical novel following a protagonist named O and the title of Asli Erdogan’s novel about the (fictional) author, a Turkish woman named Ozgur. Ozgur, on the cusp of 30, has spent two years in Rio de Janeiro, trying to write the city around her into a shape that might be understood by her imagined reader: “a sophisticated, educated someone who had never experienced hunger, and who would be sitting down in a comfortable chair and doing the least risky occupation in the world — reading…” As it happens, the novel begins on what will be the day of Ozgur’s death, though she, of course, does not know that. Two years on, Ozgur, in her ragged jeans and worn-down shoes, looks like a woman without a dime to her name, subsisting on warm tea and cheap cigarettes, yet still appears to her neighbors as a gringa, voluntarily shrugging off privilege that they were never offered. In alternating sections, we are introduced to a former painter who once lived in London and is now considered the village madman, quoting passages of Keats and Macbeth; Ozgur’s onetime friend, Eli a gay actor; and scenes describing harrowing conditions of violence and poverty. The novel might have been richer had Erdogan taken advantage of the structure to interrogate Ozgur’s motives and perceptions more fully than Ozgur herself can. But it does succeed as a sort of reverse postcard — the hazards of the tropics seen in the eyes of a woman from winter climes. -

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