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Excerpt from The Trojan War Museum by Ayse Papatya Bucak, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Trojan War Museum

and Other Stories

by Ayse Papatya Bucak

The Trojan War Museum by Ayse Papatya Bucak X
The Trojan War Museum by Ayse Papatya Bucak
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  • First Published:
    Aug 2019, 192 pages
    Aug 25, 2020, 192 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Lisa Butts
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About this Book

Print Excerpt

The Gathering of Desire

It was the age of automatons and already there was a fly made of brass, a mechanical tiger, an eight foot elephant, and a duck that swallowed a piece of grain and excreted a small pellet.  There was a dancing woman and a trumpet playing man. A miniature Moscow that burned and collapsed and sprang up again.  

And once there was, and once there wasn't, 

in the time when magic was mystery and science was fact,

in the time when God's hand could arm man's puppet, 

when miracles were seen to be believed, and schemes were believed to be seen, 

there was the Ottoman Turk, the chess-playing mechanical man.  

Philadelphia, 1827

Outside the Turk's cabinet is the stage, the audience, and an opponent coaxed out of the crowd by Maelzel the showman.  Inside the Turk's cabinet is the dim light of the candle, its smoke which does not ventilate as quickly as it burns, the magnets and mechanics that allow S. to control the automaton's movements, the small chessboard that allows him to control the larger game.  Outside of the cabinet is all of the mystery and wonder and suspicions that he alone should be free of, the one person who does not have to ponder how it works—inside is a man, him. He is the Turk's beating heart, he is its brain. Its skill is his, its first move, its reactions, the many wins and few losses, all his. And yet.  

Outside the cabinet, the Turk is a champion. Inside the cabinet there are only endless moves, no trickier than the moves S. makes to slide his mechanized seat from left to right, from front to back as Maelzel the showman opens the various doors of the cabinet to prove to the audience that nobody is inside.  Maelzel is a master of proving what is not true.  

Still there are rumors.  A boy, a dwarf, a man without legs.  Some have even guessed the truth, mentioning S. by name.  And yet the crowds arrive. They will not relinquish their amazement.

They have been performing in Philadelphia a month already when she comes to the stage, the last match of the night.  "Never a woman before," Maelzel announces to the crowd. "Finally a woman. Can she beat the Turk? Can she?"

In the café in Paris, S. sometimes played women, sometimes they flirted with him, but rarely.  His appearance was not one to draw women in, nor was his manner. It is no matter: he will play whomever.  

Gone are the days of playing masters.

"What is your name, Madam?" Maelzel asks, but S. does not hear her answer.  

She takes the stage surprised.  She did not mean to volunteer. Her children willed her to, she believes.  The power of them together, wishing, with the same force that caused her to take them to the performance in the first place, the first time any of them have gone out since the disappearance (death, she tells herself) of her husband, their father, Thomas, eight months ago.  

There have been whispers: another family, a secret debt, a sudden madness.  But she does not believe them. Given a mystery, people, she finds, force startling narratives on the unlikeliest characters.  Thomas was a Quaker, a teacher and reformer, a person of family; and now people want to believe him less than he was. But she does not care what they want to believe.  After all her time in the faith, after all her efforts to hold their community together–it astonishes her to realize it–but she does not care if she sees any of them again.  Instead all of her work goes to accepting the most logical truth: she will never know what happened, and Thomas will always be gone. Every day she must convince herself of this or else she will merely pass the time waiting for his return.

Excerpted from The Trojan War Museum: And Other Stories. Copyright (c) 2019 by copyright holder. Used with permission of the publisher W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. All rights reserved.

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