Fairy Chimney Soda
Dedicated to his father, Mevlüt, who made and sold his own brand of flavored soda or "Peri Gazozu" in a village in Anatolia, "Fairy Chimney Soda" is a collection of short stories by Turkish author, screenplay writer and actor Ercan Kesal. Written with a light, fairy-tale touch, Kesal is clear-eyed as he mines his memories of childhood and his early years as a doctor fulfilling his mandatory civil service in the remote villages of Anatolia. He explores the wonder and terror of childhood, the hardship of living through the turbulent years in the lead-up to the 1980 military coup and the anguish, insight and resolution that comes with death and dying. The stories are artfully layered cuts out of time, vignettes woven together by a common thread that brings the past into a vibrant, startling present. Each story is a little like a delicate patchwork, condensing an entire lifetime: now he is the proverbial country doctor; a zealous revolutionary; a young boy coming of age; an older man paying tribute to a father about to die. Although a collection of individual stories, "Fairy Chimney Soda" reads like a novella in that we come to know intimately Kesal's mother and father and lasting childhood friends. It is a celebration of both his country and these people whom he dearly loved.
The stories capture the cultural, political and social landscape in the late twentieth century, casting light on some of the harsh realities that have plagued the Turkish Republic since its establishment in 1923. In many of them Kesal challenges the status quo, tackling the hard issues: state violence, terror, a patriarchal society and prejudice; they are stories in which the notion of fate still triumphs over the strength of individual free will. In them we see echoes of the Turkish storyteller Sait Faik and the stark clarity, precision and insight of Lydia Davis.
In crystal-clear prose, the stories are cinematic, bursting with color. In few words we see a young boy in the many trying stages of his life coming to grips with his relationship to his family, country and the world around him. He recalls that precise moment when he decides his mother should no longer bathe him, and later, when he is studying to become a doctor, he marvels at his near-mythical mother's primal understanding of the world, and how this lies in stark and loving contrast with his commitment to science and his desire to positively effect change in his country.
These are cautionary tales unveiling hard truths, unsettling in their quick, dramatic shifts in mood, at times bleak and buckling under a philosophical pressure, at other times warm and uplifting, always rich with human wisdom. Matching with his presence on the silver screen, Kesal is a brave and bighearted writer: radical, self-questioning and perceptive. In its entirety "Fairy Chimney Soda" is a unique glimpse of life in Turkey in the late twentieth century, whimsical, poignant, at times radical, but always heartfelt, timeless, deeply personal sketches connected by common themes of love, death, faith, compassion and reconciliation.