Excerpt from Orhan's Inheritance by Aline Ohanesian, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Orhan's Inheritance

by Aline Ohanesian

Orhan's Inheritance by Aline Ohanesian X
Orhan's Inheritance by Aline Ohanesian
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  • First Published:
    Apr 2015, 352 pages
    Paperback:
    Jan 2016, 368 pages

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Excerpt
Orhan's Inheritance

They found him inside one of the seventeen cauldrons in the courtyard, steeping in an indigo dye two shades darker than the summer sky. His arms and chin were propped over the copper edge, but the rest of Kemal Turkoglu, age eighty-nine, had turned a pretty pale blue. Orhan was told the old men of the village stood in front of the soaking corpse, fingering their worry beads, while their sons waited, holding dice from abandoned backgammon games. Modesty forbade any female spectators, but within hours the news spread from one kitchen and vendor's stall to the next. Orhan's grandfather, his dede, had immersed his body, naked except for his britches, into a vat of fabric dye outside their family home.

Orhan sinks into the back seat of the private car, a luxury he talked himself into when the dread of a seven-hour bus ride back to the village started to overwhelm his grief. He wanted to mourn in private, away from the chickens, the elderly, the traveling merchants, or worse yet, the odd acquaintance that could normally be found on a bus ride to Anatolia, the interior of Turkey. He told himself, he could afford a little luxury now, but the car showed up an hour late, sporting a broken air conditioner and a driver reeking of cheap cologne and sweat. Orhan lights a cigarette and shuts his eyes against the sting of the man's body odor.

"Going to visit your family?" the driver asks.

"Yes," answers Orhan.

"That's nice. So many young people leave their villages and never come back," he says.

The truth is it's been three years since his last visit. Had Dede had the good sense to move out of that god-forsaken place, there would be no reason to go back. The car veers off the highway, making its way along a recently paved road toward the city of Sivas, on whose outskirts Karod village is located. The driver slows down, and opens a window, letting the terroir-laden scent of soil waft into the car's cavity. Unlike Istanbul, whose majesty is reflected in the Bosporus, Central Anatolia is the quintessential other Turkey, in which allusions of majesty or progress are much harder to come by. Here shepherds follow the bleating of longhaired goats, and squat village women carry bundles of kindling on their backs. Time and progress are two long-lost relatives who send an occasional letter. The ancient roads of Sivas province, once a part of the famed Silk Road, have seen the stomping of Assyrian, Persian, Greek and Roman feet. Dry-rotted timber, blocks of concrete and sheets of corrugated tin stand feebly upon ancient Byzantine stone structures whose architectural complexity suggests a more glorious past. Layer upon layer of earth and civilization washed downstream by the muddy waters of the Kizil Irmak, the Red River, produces a kind of sedimentary aesthetic. Orhan thinks of the unbearable heat of Anatolian summers acting as an adhesive for all these different layers.

"You have siblings?" the driver asks.

"No," answers Orhan.

"Just your parents then?" he asks, glancing at Orhan through the rear view mirror.

"Father, grandfather, and an aunt," he says, looking out at the barren landscape. How is it that even without a single structure weighing down on it, the land is heavy, the atmosphere so pressed it makes it hard to breathe. It was these very fields, burdened with a history he could not name that first inspired him to pick up Dede's Leica. Somewhere around age fifteen, Orhan discovered that if he blurred the image in the lens enough, Karod would no longer threaten to crush him. Through the lens, the slopes and valleys of his childhood started to resemble abstract paintings, broad strokes of yellow and green, hidden patches of lavender, set against an ever-changing sky of blue and orange. It was only later that he realized he was imposing meaning upon the world, by the way he chose to capture it. Those first photographs were like butterflies suspended in glass panes.

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Excerpted from Orhan's Inheritance by Aline Ohanesian. Copyright © 2015 by Aline Ohanesian. Excerpted by permission of Algonquin Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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