If stories expand us, secrets shrink us, as this deep, wise, and intricate debut novel by Mina Seçkin illustrates ... a pungent mix of politics and family dynamics ... Due to her deep grief over the sudden death of her father in their Brooklyn home the winter before, Sibel’s own temperament is underwater. As the first-person narrator, she is slyly funny and deadpan. Dialogue is delivered without quotation marks, giving the novel an interior quality. This suits the novel well, as Sibel is preoccupied not just with bile and phlegm, but also with big moral questions ... The unspooling of clues that slowly reveals this mystery woman’s identity, and the burdensome secret her grandmother has carried, form the burning, bright core of the novel ... Seçkin’s first novel is almost too loaded. But for the patient, dedicated reader, the rewards are immense. The Four Humors is a novel about connecting the dots — between people, countries, and cultures. Sibel, the aspiring doctor, realizes she doesn’t just have a body, she is a body. And she doesn’t just have a feeling, she could be the feeling ... unites and transports the reader with a throat-tugging ending, demonstrating the power of stories to expand us all.
... a deliciously bittersweet meditation on the elastic, shifting narratives we weave from the fragile threads of our daily existence, the people around us, and the places we call home ... What holds these unraveling characters together is Seçkin’s precise, direct prose, which balances the grotesque with the beautiful, the funny with the genuinely moving. With lyricism and blunt, humorous honesty, Seçkin pokes and prods at the complexities of family history and personal identity from different angles. She is especially acute in describing the discomfort of existing in bodies that not only think but consume and excrete and hold weight ... the reader is constantly reminded that life is a physical as well as spiritual phenomenon, and that, for all their loneliness, our individual lives are part of a bigger story.
... an engrossing exploration of national identity, the meaning of family and loss, and what happens when a family hides its central secret ... Seçkin demonstrates impressive skill weaving together the story of Sibel's extended family with the political violence that has marked Turkey in recent decades ... These female characters are extremely well drawn, each distinct and filled with her own mystery ... In contrast with the first three sections, the fourth section of the book, containing important revelations, moves at breakneck speed. I felt that some smoothing out of the overall pacing might have been advised. But that is a small quibble ... Read The Four Humors for an insider's travelogue of Istanbul and its volatile modern political history, and for the tastes and feel of contemporary Turkish culture. Read it too, to get to know a wonderful set of characters — women in all their flaws and generosities — and for an astute account of what it means to be an immigrant in America. Finally, read it to follow one young woman's beautifully-rendered journey into her past, so that she can wrest herself from stasis and step into her future.
The terrific rapport among Sibel, Cooper and her grandmother provides a needed antidote to the melancholic, layered family histories, laced with obfuscation. The book’s final third reconciles mysteries surrounding Sibel’s father, whose legacy ties these characters together; but it’s the living, with all their grievances and affection, who carry this humane and refreshingly astringent novel.
Central to this novel is the problem of what goes unsaid. Seçkin convincingly dramatizes that this problem has no easy answer. It’s not a matter of simply resisting repression and coming out and saying, because often the truth isn’t reducible to articulable formulas about which everyone will agree ... As the anecdotes pile up, the novel suffers from a slackness of form. The reader is invited to turn many pages of the family album. Some readers will be more patient than others ... reticence becomes a narrative problem, as it is not only a question of Sibel withholding information from her family circle but also from the reader. It is possible to concoct an aesthetic justification for this storytelling gap: it could be read as a revealing lacuna of trauma. As mentioned, it is no simple matter to articulate the past. But for this reviewer, at least, a greater access to Sibel’s feelings about her father is a missed opportunity. Instead, the narration is diluted by anecdotes which ultimately distract from the novel’s emotional core. The novel is long but leaves a lingering impression of a story that is unfinished.
The pain of grief, the aging of a loved one, the distilled sense of despair from unresolved issues with a now deceased parent, and the murkiness of long-held family secrets are all thoughtfully dramatized. Turkey’s political history is integral to the storyline, underscoring how personal choices are inextricably linked to the larger world. Seçkin’s lively prose and empathic portrayal of her characters make for an evocative and entertaining first novel.
Like the Russian soap operas that Sibel and her grandmother watch devotedly, The Four Humors unfolds at a leisurely pace, with an extensive cast of characters and a multigenerational plot that demands your attention. Once you fall into its rhythm, you'll find yourself hooked.
... a detailed work that calls upon both the specificity of the character’s experience, as well as the universality of the disillusioned millennial, and becomes a novel of broad, unexpected appeal ... This single line transforms this novel from detailed character study to something more universal and relatable, to readers Turkish and non-Turkish, to anyone that has come from someone and deals with their own inadequacy ... However, Sibel’s perspective only goes so far as we navigate the multitude of conflicts in The Four Humors. We are ultimately overwhelmed by her grandmother’s illness and family secrets, extended relatives with their own input, the legacy of a deceased father, illnesses in Sibel’s sister and other family, passive-aggressive confrontations with friends, the ups and downs of a college romance, and so much more. To compensate, the book reads long, attempting to tackle all of these threads in Sibel’s subtle, distant voice. Perhaps a more focused narrative could aid the novel along, de-emphasizing supporting characters and bringing our attention back to the four humors themselves, which at times are lost as the novel goes on ... a worthy addition to the growing catalog of millennial diaspora stories. We do not fall in love with Sibel, nor should we, though we may empathize with her headfirst journey into adulthood. Seçkin nails certain unappreciated subtleties, such as family loving a white partner more than yourself, or one’s accent and knowledge of politics called into question due to nationality. Sibel lived before this tale and will live on long after the pages come to an end, and in this respect, the novel truly shines.
Perceptive ... Seçkin moves with poise from Sibel’s modern-day, deadpan tone to the stories of her older relatives, which are related as stand-alone narratives and are often entangled with Turkey’s tempestuous political history. The grandmother is particularly well drawn ... Things unfold at a measured pace, with a fairly straightforward plot that’s low on suspense. Like many debuts, this packs a lot in, with varying degrees of success. At its heart, though, it’s a moving family story.
Seçkin's idiosyncratic debut novel follows its conflicted heroine through a relatively uneventful but richly strange summer in Istanbul ... While it's a challenge to keep track of all of Sibel's current friends and relatives, let alone the preceding generations, and while the novel may be more concerned with the ebb and flow of daily experience than with advancing the plot, Seçkin conveys a convincing, often dryly humorous sense of life in a constantly changing city ... A captivating treat for those willing to go with the flow.