With Sensuality and Coolness, a Debut Novel Considers the (Partial) Truths We Tell About Ourselves

Invited to a picnic by another student, Nunu is overwhelmed by what she perceives to be the easy camaraderie of the others in the group, and turns back before they see her. Forcing herself to order a proper meal in the cafe, she brings the food home and leaves it to rot in the refrigerator.

Savas’s novel unfolds in a series of 72 short, non-chronological chapters, pieces of a mosaic that demand careful attention as you attempt to fit them together. (Chapter 28 is a single parenthetical sentence of less than 40 words.) Gradually we understand that Nunu is writing from present-day Istanbul, where she has finally settled, and that we are reading her recollections of her past in that city and in Paris and London.

The unreliability of memory; the ways we talk to ourselves and to each other; how we can act as detectives in our own lives, combing the past for clues; how places can seem clearer from afar than when we are there — all these themes are touched on in Savas’s spare, disarmingly simple prose. She writes with both sensuality and coolness, as if determined to find a rational explanation for the irrationality of existence, and for the narrator’s opaque understanding of herself.

There is, for instance, Nunu’s lonely, bewildering childhood; her father, whose promise fizzled to nothing before his premature death; her mother, who fell into a kind of bewildered depression; her home, in which most everything was left unsaid. There is an interlude in England, where Nunu attends university and goes through the motions of normalcy with Molly, her friendly roommate, and Luke, her thoughtful boyfriend.

And there is her time in Paris, where she is adrift until she is rescued by the unconventional sort-of friendship she forms with M., an older male writer known for his lyrical writing about Istanbul. They send finely crafted emails and go on meandering walks, talking about writing, exploring the difference between art and artifice, spinning tales for one another. M. relishes Nunu’s company, scavenging her stories for material, and speaks enthusiastically of the “invisible thread” connecting them.

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