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Özgür Mumcu – The Peace Machine

Book Cover

The mechanical dove.

Publisher: Pushkin Press
Pages: 215
Type: Fiction
Age: Adult
ISBN: 978-1-782-27394-3
First Published: 2016; 31st May 2018 in English
Date Reviewed: 24th September 2018
Rating: 2.5/5

Original language: Turkish
Original title: Bariş Makinesi (Peace Machine)
Translated by: Mark David Wyers

In the very early 1900s, Celal, an orphan living in Turkey, saves the life of a wealthy man, and the wealthy man adopts him. When Celal grows up he becomes an erotic novelist, sending chapters one by one in secret to Paris where they are printed in a basement and distributed. On a trip to France, Celal is questioned by a policeman who doesn’t want to arrest him, in fact he wants to give him a script by a friend to look over. The script includes the name of Celal’s adopted father and discusses the idea of a machine that would wipe out hatred by disposing of free will.

The Peace Machine is a historical novel about the politics in early 20th century Serbia (public anger that led to the May Coup when the king and his commoner queen were assassinated) and the countries allied with the opposing side. Involving slight magical realism, the book sports an interesting premise but quickly becomes confusing.

The basics of this novel are good. The setting is intriguing – the history’s interesting anyway, but the way in which Mumcu describes it is great, pulling you in from the start. The way Celal’s writing career goes on and the spots of magical realism around are fantastic. And the look into the revolt against the Serbian monarchy is good, too.

But a lot is missed out – the narrative jumps from one situation to another, with Celal moving around for vague reasons; the politics isn’t explained particularly well – unless you’ve a lot of knowledge you have to research it to understand, and even then it’s confusing. The machine itself is barely included, only at the tail end of the narrative, and not described in much detail. It’s ironic, perhaps, that no one in the book is likeable; when they are all looking to make the world peaceful by altering people’s souls with an electrical device one can’t but look askance of the extreme violence that they show to each other, and to others.

A more detailed plot, more developed characters, and more reasoning beyond philosophical concepts, would have made The Peace Machine a better book. As it is, it’s very difficult to get into for more than a few pages at a time, the narrative putting scene changes before information.

I received this book for review.

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Jenny @ Reading the End

September 25, 2018, 10:02 pm

Interesting! I’ve heard of this and have been excited to give it a try — I still am, but I’ll try to temper my expectations. I feel like often this is the case with books from other cultures? I have to adjust what I expect a narrative to look like, a little bit (or sometimes a lot!).

Andrew Blackman

September 26, 2018, 3:59 pm

Such an interesting premise! Sorry to hear it didn’t work so well for you, Charlie. Perhaps Balkan politics would be more familiar to Turkish readers, so perhaps a few footnotes or a context-giving introduction from the translator would have helped. Calling a book The Peace Machine and then barely mentioning the machine itself does sound odd.

Charlie

September 27, 2018, 8:41 am

Jenny: It would likely work a bit better with tempered expectations. Perhaps – I think it’s common to have an idea of a book based on your experiences so far, at least when it’s from a cultural you’re yet to read books (or watch films etc) from.

Andrew: Ahh, that’s a good point about Turkish readers. I didn’t know much before reading this and did wonder why Serbia was written about when it seemed the coup was internal (the only thing I could find was the war with Greece). I think there’s a reliance on the part of the author that the philosophy will be understood completely, because there’s a bit more about peace itself there.

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