‘Aylin’ by Ayşe Kulin
William Armstrong - firstname.lastname@example.org‘Aylin’ by Ayşe Kulin, translated by Dara Çolakoğlu (Amazon Crossing, 267 pages, $25)
This is a deeply silly novel - a cheesy 300-page melodrama full of ill-fated intercontinental marriages, abortions, professional triumph and despair, shotgun romance, and death. The eponymous protagonist lives a life full enough for 10 people at a hyperactive pace, with the action skipping around manically from page to page. We’re told at one point that Aylin's “soul could not be confined to cities and continents,” but marriages and miscarriages can apparently be confined to a single paragraph. It’s all quite ludicrous, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy it at one level, reveling in the trashy absurdity of it all.
Author Ayşe Kulin is among Turkey’s most popular novelists, and this book was first published in Turkish back in 1997, only appearing in English this year. It opens with a (quite tedious) recounting of our heroine’s illustrious family history. Once that is out of the way, we’re sent us on a whirlwind tour of Aylin’s hectic, glamorous, preposterous life. She enjoys a privileged jet-setting childhood; has an unhappy and abusive marriage with a prince from Libya after a chance meeting at a restaurant; becomes a hippy in 1960s Paris; enrolls at university to study medicine; marries a young Swiss nuclear physicist professor called Jean-Pierre; opens a successful psychiatry practice in New York; falls in love with a U.N. Ambassador to Afghanistan twice her age; marries a Jewish Turkish immigrant; has multiple abortions and multiple miscarriages; brings up children; and rises to the rank of a lieutenant-colonel after working for the U.S. military. It’s about as bonkers as it sounds.
At one point Aylin’s sister Nilüfer tells her she is “like a chameleon. You can adapt to any situation.” Indeed, those situations keep getting thrown at her thick and fast. At one point in the saga Aylin converts to Judaism to get married and has six miscarriages (almost dying after one) in the space of less than half a page. “I’m not running away from life,” she protests, “I’m running away from monotony.”
The book isn’t without humor, intentional or otherwise. Referring to one of her later husbands (I forget which), Aylin says “I love bigger men. They’re cheerful and trustworthy.” Elsewhere, she moves into a brownstone on 74th Street in New York and makes friends with Frank Gifford, Kathy Lee Gifford, David Copperfield and Johnny Cash - names seemingly picked at random.
Kulin has worked as a screenwriter for TV serials, movies, and advertisements. That certainly comes through in “Aylin,” which has a sweepingly ridiculous plot that would probably work well as an episodic screen romp. I suspect Kulin had TV in mind when writing - certainly no crime and certainly wise from a financial perspective.
“Aylin never played,” the narrator tells us towards the end of the novel. “Not as the good-hearted woman or ill-mannered woman, the princess, the hippie, the woman in love, the spoiled girl, the seductress, the student, the teacher, the doctor, or the mother. She had always inhabited her role, whatever it was, committing her heart, her mind, and her soul as long as necessary.” Overall the book is pretty flimsy, but it has few delusions of grandeur. It would be wrong to criticize it on terms it doesn’t even try to satisfy and it obviously works for enough readers.