Knowing that the writer of these words is himself in a prison cell for the rest of his life renders lines like these almost unbearably poignant ... The beauty of Altan’s writing is most finely tuned on the nuances of people trapped in unhappy relationships, on frustrated longing and futile hope for redemption – passages that chime horribly with the image of an imprisoned writer ... From his prison cell, [Alan] gives us a reason – a duty, even – to keep reading his work, and the work of Turkey’s many fearless writers.
A brilliant critique of an authoritarian regime on the verge of collapse ... multi-layered, lyrical prose ... [Altan's] outrageous detention makes the reading of his vibrant, engrossing novel, lucidly translated by Brendan Freely and Yelda Türedi, all the more urgent as an act of solidarity. Altan is writing the fourth volume from his prison cell.
While too much modern 'historical fiction' tends to rely on nostalgia and cheap fireworks, Altan reasserts popular history as one of the novel’s greatest subjects ... a breathless portrait of late-19th century Istanbul ... One of Altan’s gifts as a historical novelist is his ability to connect what goes on, say, in the marriage bed with what occurs on a world-scale. There are no grand gestures of 'Great Men' at the expense of everyday experiences. Rather, the commonplace mirrors bigger events or triggers them directly ... Very little about this book is grandiose, a rarity for a work of historical fiction. This is an Istanbul full of disappointing sex, sketchy political murders and the kind of codified fear that comes with living day-after-day under a despotic regime. In Altan’s hands, though, it all has a certain dignity. He picks the garbage off the ground and sets it in the sphere of historical interest. Personally, that’s my favorite sort of history.
Readers can expect more than just a straightforward historical political novel. Altan draws us in deep to demonstrate just how much history depends on those who are doing the telling ... Reads like a grand adventure story: intrigue, suspense, romance and politics on an impressive scale. However, as each little incident is described in detail, from the in-fighting in the palace to the conditions aboard Ottoman naval vessels, we realise there is a deep current of rot running through the entire undertaking.
The first novel of a four-volume set, Like a Sword Wound stands alone, except for curious and in this single volume, somewhat awkward, framing in which the story is nominally told via Osman, a modern character, in communication with relatives from his past. This may prove more significant in later volumes; in this book, it seems a superfluous device, but thankfully hardly intrudes ... Brendan Freely and Yelda Türedi’s translation manages to be both fluently colloquial while maintaining a period tone.
These stories are set in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, in the final months of the Ottoman empire: the atmosphere of autocratic paranoia parallels present day Turkish politics ... Istanbul is a powerful presence in the novel, beautifully evoked ... Tiny incidents represent the larger panorama 'just as we can see microbes in a drop of blood.' Altan uses a Tolstoyan combination of the epic and the intimate to explore questions of national identity and historical narrative.