I don’t read a lot of fiction and when I do, I usually don’t gravitate towards novels that deal with male prostitution, heavy substance abuse (including the inhalation of solvents), pedophilia and homelessness. But, since we all know life isn’t always pretty, I guess it was a matter of time before I stumbled upon a work of fiction that contained all that stuff and maybe a little more. That novel happened to be Perihan Magden’s Ali and Ramazan. Based on a true story, it’s the tale of two boys from an Istanbul orphanage who meet, become friends and eventually fall in love. Once the boys come of age, they’re discharged from the state-sponsored institution and quickly conscripted into the Turkish army. After completing their respective tours of duty Ali (an ethnic Arab from Hatay and member of the Alevi sect) and Ramazan (handsome, charming but also volatile and self-destructive) soon find themselves living on the rough streets of Istanbul with no means of moral support. Living lives without hope, both young men succumb to the perils of poverty, self-loathing and obsessive passion.
Ali and Ramazan, to me anyway, is one of those rare novels that I probably didn’t like a lot, but at the same time didn’t dislike. The story was grim, but it held my interest. Perhaps since it dealt with young Muslim men, poverty and sexuality it reminded me a bit of Tahar Ben Jelloun‘s novel Leaving Tangier. I also thought Ruth Whitehouse did a fine job translating the novel into English from its original Turkish, since I plowed through Ali and Ramazan quickly and almost effortlessly. Who knows, maybe I enjoyed Magden’s novel more than I cared to admit.