|Publisher:||Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill|
|Product dimensions:||5.80(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.30(d)|
About the Author
Aline Ohanesian's great-grandmother was a survivor of the Armenian Genocide. Her history was the kernel for the story that Ohanesian tells in her first novel, Orhan's Inheritance. Ohanesian was a finalist for the PEN/Bellwether Prize for Fiction and Glimmer Train’s Short Story Award for New Writers. Born in Northridge, California, she lives and writes in San Juan Capistrano, California, with her husband and two young sons. Her website is www.alineohanesian.com.
Read an Excerpt
An Axe in the Forest
THEY FOUND HIM inside one of seventeen cauldrons in the courtyard, steeping in an indigo dye two shades darker than the summer sky. His arms and chin were propped over the copper edge, but the rest of Kemal Türkoglu, age ninety-three, had turned a pretty pale blue. Orhan was told the old men of the village stood in front of the soaking corpse, fingering their worry beads, while their sons waited, holding dice from abandoned backgammon games. Modesty forbade any female spectators, but within hours the news spread from one kitchen and vendor's stall to the next. Orhan's grandfather, his dede, had immersed his body, naked except for his britches, into a vat of fabric dye outside their family home.
Orhan sinks into the backseat of the private car, a luxury he talked himself into when the dread of a seven-hour bus ride back to the village started to overwhelm his grief. He wanted to mourn in private, away from the chickens, the elderly, the traveling merchants, or worse yet, the odd acquaintance that could normally be found on a bus ride to Anatolia, the interior of Turkey. He told himself he could afford a little luxury now, but the car showed up an hour late, sporting a broken air conditioner and a driver reeking of cheap cologne and sweat. Orhan lights a cigarette and shuts his eyes against the sting of the man's body odor.
"Going to visit your family?" the driver asks.
"Yes," answers Orhan.
"That's nice. So many young people leave their villages and never come back," he says.
The truth is it's been three years since his last visit. Had Dede had the good sense to move out of that godforsaken place, there would be no reason to go back. The car veers off the highway, making its way along a recently paved road toward the city of Sivas, on whose outskirts Karod village is located. The driver slows down and opens a window, letting the terroir-laden scent of soil waft into the car's cavity. Unlike Istanbul, whose majesty is reflected in the Bosporus, Central Anatolia is the quintessential other Turkey, in which allusions of majesty or progress are much harder to come by. Here shepherds follow the bleating of long-haired goats, and squat village women carry bundles of kindling on their backs. Time and progress are two long-lost relatives who send an occasional letter. The ancient roads of Sivas Province, once a part of the famed Silk Road, have seen the stomping of Assyrian, Persian, Greek, and Roman feet. Dry-rotted timber, blocks of concrete, and sheets of corrugated tin stand feebly upon ancient Byzantine stone structures whose architectural complexity suggests a more glorious past. Layer upon layer of earth and civilization washed downstream by the muddy waters of the Kizil Irmak, the Red River, produces a kind of sedimentary aesthetic. Orhan thinks of the unbearable heat of Anatolian summers acting as an adhesive for all these different layers.
"You have siblings?" the driver asks.
"No," answers Orhan.
"Just your parents then?" he asks, glancing at Orhan through the rearview mirror.
"Father, grandfather, and an aunt," he says, looking out at the barren landscape. How is it that even without a single structure weighing down on it, the land is heavy, the atmosphere so pressed it makes it hard to breathe? It was these very fields, burdened with a history he could not name that first inspired him to pick up Dede's Leica. Somewhere around age fifteen, Orhan discovered that if he blurred the image in the lens enough, Karod would no longer threaten to crush him. Through the lens, the slopes and valleys of his childhood started to resemble abstract paintings, broad strokes of yellow and green, hidden patches of lavender, set against an ever- changing sky of blue and orange. It was only later that he realized he was imposing meaning upon the world, by the way he chose to capture it. Those first photographs were like butterflies suspended in glass panes.
"I grew up near Sivas," the driver continues. "What's your family name? Maybe I know it."
There is no escaping this constant need for placing one another in Turkey. It's one of the few things Orhan loved about living in Germany: the anonymity. "TÃ1/4rkoÄlu," he says finally.
The driver's expression, framed in the rearview mirror, changes. "I'm sorry for your loss," he says. "Kemal Bey was an extraordinary man. Is it true he fought at Ctesiphon?"
Orhan nods, taking another drag from his cigarette.
"They don't make them like that anymore. That generation was full of real men. They fought against all of Europe and Russia, established a republic, and founded entire industries. It's something, huh?"
"Yes," agrees Orhan. "It's something."
"The paper says he immersed himself in dye for medicinal purposes," the driver says.
It's not the first time Orhan has heard this preposterous theory. It's a story crafted, no doubt, by his cunning little aunt. Though Dede had been a well-respected World War I hero-turned-businessman, he was also an eccentric man, living in a place where eccentricities needed to be explained away or covered up.
In villages like Karod, every person, object, and stone has to have some sort of covering, a layer of protection made from cloth, brick, or dust. Men and women cover their heads with skullcaps and head scarves. These standards of modesty also apply to their animals, their speech, their ideas. Why should Dede's death be an exception?
The car veers left onto a loosely graveled road that leads into the village. Orhan searches for the wooden post that used to announce the village's name in unassuming hand-painted white letters, but it's nowhere to be found. A young boy in a bright orange shirt and green shorts walks behind a herd of cows. He sweeps a long stick at their backs, ushering them into one of many narrow corridors sandwiched between mud-caked houses.
"Is this it?" asks the driver.
"Yes," says Orhan. "Just follow this road until you see the house with the large columns."
The sound of crunching gravel comes to a halt as the car stops. Orhan extinguishes his cigarette and steps out. He can hear the singular sound of hired wailers, their practiced percussion luring him out of the car: two, maybe three female voices filled with a kind of sorrow and vulnerability that comes only with practice. The two-story family home is a dilapidated old ruin by any standards, but here in the forgotten back pocket of Central Anatolia, it is considered a sturdy and grand affair. A thin film of mustard-colored stucco advances and retreats over hand-cut stones of putty and gray, reminding Orhan of a half-peeled piece of dried-out fruit. The Victorian-looking house, complete with parlor and basement, is the birthplace of Tarik Inc., which began as a small collection of workshops and which, over the past six decades, grew into an automated firm, exporting textiles as far away as Italy and Germany. Here, inside these ruinous walls, according to family legend, Orhan's great-grandfather had woven a kilim for the sultan himself. That was before the empire became a republic, before democracy and westernization revolutionized what it meant to be a Turk. In the courtyard to the left of the house, the massive copper cauldrons stand guarding the wilting structure. Through the decades they've gone from holding fabric dye to sheltering children playing hide-and-seek, to storing the discarded ashes of hookah pipes and cigarettes. These vessels have contained the many bits and pieces of Dede's life. Perhaps it is only fitting that they also housed his last breath.
Orhan weaves a familiar path around the cauldrons. All empty, except one holding a murky sledge like dye that looks more black than blue, the color of a good-bye.
Above the wooden frame of the front door, a stone arch inscribed with indecipherable script and the date 1905 welcomes guests into the time warp inside. No one really knows what these letters above the door announce or in what language they're written. Orhan hunches his six-foot frame in order to step inside the home and into a sea of curious townspeople and villagers come to pay their respects and graze on food and gossip. The head wailer, a rich woman by the looks of her gold teeth, orchestrates a powerful atmosphere of lamentation with a chant from the Koran.
"He drowned himself," someone whispers.
"If he drowned himself, why is his head not blue?" another asks.
"Consider how neatly he folded his clothes," someone else says, as if that alone could prove something.
"Apparently, medicinal dye is all the rage in Istanbul."
"He was always a forward-thinking man."
Orhan recognizes only a handful of people in the room. Anyone with any sense or prospects left Karod a long time ago, peeling it off like an ill-fitting coat. A few old men and women, the aging parents of his childhood friends, people he politely calls auntie and uncle, pat his face and shake his hand. Village girls, none older than twenty, roam around the room offering tea and cookies on plastic trays, their black head scarves framing eyelids lowered in modesty. They wear traditional baggy Åalvar pants beneath their brightly colored cotton dresses. Orhan thinks he recognizes one or two of them. Suddenly conscious of his Italian suit and loafers, he grabs a cup of tea and makes his way to the living room, where every flat surface — tables, bookshelves, mantels, even the television — is covered with handcrafted doilies. Their intricate geometric and floral designs in various shades of beige provide every exposed horizontal surface with a measure of modesty.
A young girl, flanked on both sides by older women, one of whom he remembers as the village marriage broker, silently offers Orhan a tray of baklava.
"Masallah," says the marriage broker, scanning her eyes along the length of his body. "We heard you came by private car." She nods in solemn approval. The girl standing to her left keeps her eyes glued to the plastic tray of sweets, and the broker gives him a conspiratorial smile. Orhan lifts his hand in protest, sure that the gesture is universal enough to decline both the baklava and the girl.
Six years ago, when Orhan first returned from Germany, these same "aunties" shunned him like a leper. The word communist was thrown at his back and sometimes to his face. Now they parade their single daughters in front of him, fantasizing about becoming the mother-in-law of the prodigal grandson and successful businessman. It was the combination of their scorn and his father's that made him settle in Istanbul, where no one knew a thing about his past. To his city friends, Orhan's stay in Germany was not a forced and shameful exile but an acceptable part of a rich man's education.
The girl still stands before him, awkwardly holding the tray of baklava in her calloused hands. They look so much older than the rest of her. These girls are a completely different species from the gazelles that make up the social elite of Istanbul, a modern crowd of which Orhan's ex-girlfriend, Hülya, is a member. Perhaps, with his inheritance only moments away, Orhan could pursue Hülya, with her excellent lineage and perfect tan, in the manner she was accustomed to and win her back. Though by the standards of Turkish inheritance law, the majority of Dede's wealth will no doubt go to his useless father, Orhan is sure to receive something. Hülya could move into his apartment, its ancient walls covered in what her posh friends perceived as high art. He would have to buy a large china cabinet for all her cherished relics of the West, a collector's plate with Lady Diana's face lodged at its center, her collection of Duran Duran albums displayed prominently on the shelf. All the symptoms of Western capitalism without the pesky virtues like freedom of expression and minority rights.
Orhan gulps down the remainder of his tea, sets the tiny cup on the girl's baklava tray, and moves to the sitting room, where it is less crowded. The room has only three occupants, his aunt, father, and a man in a modern suit whom he recognizes as Dede's lawyer. They sit in an uncomfortable silence that goes undisturbed by his arrival at the door. Auntie Fatma sits at the back wall, in her usual garb — a long-sleeved peasant dress of dark rayon challis fabric over baggy salvar trousers — doing her best to remain invisible. Orhan is surprised by the black cotton head scarf that covers her head and frames her prunelike face. Though it is customary for village women of a certain age to cover their heads, his aunt has never been one to follow convention.
She balances a large aluminum tray on her knees, as she guts the insides of a dozen tiny squash. Her hands work at a frenzied pace, but Orhan suspects she will be listening carefully to every word spoken. He bends down and gives her a quick peck on the cheek. Seeing him, her face cracks into a smile, revealing a mouth full of gold teeth. Orhan takes the seat closest to her in silence. Light bounces from Auntie Fatma's tray to her golden mouth and back again. The smell of garlic and red pepper paste lingers in the air. She scoops handfuls of ground beef and rice into the hollows of each vegetable, her legs spread apart to steady the tray. The yellow and green squash glow like tiny gems in a jewelry box. Orhan's hand instinctively reaches toward the middle of his chest where his camera used to hang, before remembering he hasn't got one. It's a reflex that almost never happens in Istanbul, where he now lives. His body still remembers that long- lost object like the severed limb of an amputee.
His Leica is probably still somewhere in the house. Orhan hasn't seen it since his arrest a half-dozen years ago, and he doesn't want to. She is a skilled lover. If he got close to her again, pressed a firm finger on her shutter release button, she would open her aperture just enough to let the light penetrate and then shut it again. She would release that familiar and intoxicating sound, somewhere between a clap and a moan, and wait for him to wind her up again. The act would be blissful no doubt, but it would end badly. It always did. The last time he took a photograph in Karod, the country was coping with the military coup of 1980. Orhan was only nineteen when he took that final photograph. It was the sharp contrast of colors and textures that interested him. So focused on the abstractions that he failed to see the world around them. The Leica did that. It stole all his perspective.
Yes, much better to stay away from it.
Orhan tries hard not to look at his father who sits in the opposite corner, in Dede's favorite chair. He balances a cane on his knees, fingering a set of worry beads hanging from his left hand. It is the middle of August and Mustafa Türkoglu is, as always, dressed to rural standards, beige skullcap, oxford shirt, sweater vest, and a dark gray wool sports jacket paired with baggy salvar pants. Orhan can't remember a time when his father wasn't dressed this way. The sweltering heat of the Anatolian sun seeps through the window, threatening to suck the oxygen from Orhan's lungs, but his father sits unfazed. Nothing, not even the death of his father, much less a little heat, can produce the slightest change in the man.
Mustafa does not acknowledge Orhan's presence. His eyes, hard little marbles of contempt, stare straight ahead. It is probably the position he's assumed all day, throughout the long funeral service and the endless cries of hired wailers, the procession of handshakes and sorrowful faces. As the funeral guests leave, he regresses to his belligerent old self. All those years in exile it was his Dede, who had sustained him, who'd written long letters and accepted phone calls. How ironic to be left with this one, this angry little man whose perpetually sunburned skin had hardened like his heart.
Dede's attorney clears his throat. He must have a fine mahogany desk back in Istanbul, but today Mr. Yilmaz has been relegated to a straight-backed wooden chair so small that the man's knees practically touch his chest. It is a testament to his father's remarkable powers of subjugation.
"Shall I begin?" the attorney asks.
Orhan's father gives the man a nod.
"Upon my death," the attorney reads, "I give and bequeath the apartment building in Nishantashi to my son Mustafa, with the provision that he provide for our beloved Fatma Cinoglu throughout her life."
Auntie Fatma does not respond to the mentioning of her name. Head bent, she continues her merciless impaling of squash.
"The total of my estate, including the textile factories in Ankara and Izmir, as well as any and all properties and assets belonging to Tarik Inc., shall be entrusted to my grandson, Orhan Türkoglu."
The words wash over Orhan like a bucket of warm water. Orhan feels himself floating in their warmth, the tension in his muscles relaxing. Except for the sound of Auntie Fatma's scraping, the world and all its noises drown in the syllables pouring from the attorney's lips. So this is what approval feels like. The company is now entirely his. It is not what he expected. Since Turkey's inheritance laws are till heavily influenced by Sharia Islamic law, it may not even hold up in court, but it is what his grandfather wanted.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Orhan's Inheritance"
Copyright © 2015 Aline Ohanesian.
Excerpted by permission of ALGONQUIN BOOKS OF CHAPEL HILL.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
CHAPTER 1 An Axe in the Forest,
CHAPTER 2 Pilgrimage to Ararat,
CHAPTER 3 Home,
CHAPTER 4 White Days,
CHAPTER 5 The Staff of Moses,
CHAPTER 6 Normal,
CHAPTER 7 Red River,
CHAPTER 8 The Crier,
CHAPTER 9 Under the Mulberry Tree,
CHAPTER 10 Bedros and the Dress,
CHAPTER 11 Infidels,
CHAPTER 12 Kismet,
CHAPTER 13 The Whips of Satan,
CHAPTER 14 Selling Minds,
CHAPTER 15 Ani,
CHAPTER 16 Memory's Garden,
CHAPTER 17 The Fountain,
CHAPTER 18 The Pretty Ones,
CHAPTER 19 The Road to Kangal,
CHAPTER 20 Empty Prayers,
CHAPTER 21 God's Will, Insallah,
CHAPTER 22 Eagle Eye,
CHAPTER 23 Ctesiphon,
CHAPTER 24 Place of Sin,
CHAPTER 25 Rebirth,
CHAPTER 26 Altar of Contrition,
CHAPTER 27 Spilled Porridge,
CHAPTER 28 Ghosts,
CHAPTER 29 Resurrection,
CHAPTER 30 The Handmaid,
CHAPTER 31 Finding Faith,
CHAPTER 32 Exile,
CHAPTER 33 Decrepit Seed,
CHAPTER 34 The Photographer,
CHAPTER 35 Semantics,
CHAPTER 36 Witness,
CHAPTER 37 Fatma Forgiven,
CHAPTER 38 Transformation,
About the Author,