Burhan Sönmez translated from the Turkish by Ümit Hussein


A Novel

Publication Date: Nov 19, 2019

208 pp


List Price US $9.99
ISBN: 978-1-59051-100-8

Trade Paperback

List Price US $15.99
Trim Size (H x W): 5.25 x 8
ISBN: 978-1-59051-098-8


From a prize-winning Turkish novelist, a heady, political tale of one man’s search for identity and meaning in Istanbul after the loss of his memory.

A blues singer, Boratin, attempts suicide by jumping off the Bosphorus Bridge, but opens his eyes in the hospital. He has lost his memory, and can’t recall why he wished to end his life. He remembers only things that are unrelated to himself, but confuses their timing. He knows that the Ottoman Empire fell, and that the last sultan died, but has no idea when. His mind falters when remembering civilizations, while life, like a labyrinth, leads him down different paths.

From the confusion of his social and individual memory, he is faced with two questions. Does physical recognition provide a sense of identity? Which is more liberating for a man, or a society: knowing the past, or forgetting it?

Embroidered with Borgesian micro-stories, Labyrinth flows smoothly on the surface while traversing sharp bends beneath the current.

Excerpt from Labyrinth

I’m incapable of walking in the street. I want to go home, lock the door, and be by myself. I’m afraid of myself. What if I am not me… While I was in the hospital I watched a news report on television about someone who had escaped from prison. It was about a man who locked people in an underground chamber beneath his house in Istanbul, tied their hands and feet behind them with rope, tortured them, buried their bodies in the soil, then went up one floor and lived an ordinary life with his wife and children. I wasn’t amazed by how the man could have done all those things, but by how others could have lived with such a person, how they could have sat at the same table as him and slept in the same bed. After the man was captured he showed no remorse and said he had done it all in the name of God. Fifteen years. In prison terms, that’s a long time. Perhaps the years taught him remorse. Then he escaped from prison. He thought the false ID in his pocket would allow him to escape from his past too. The outside world seemed foreign to him. It wasn’t his old world. He woke up in the middle of the night, in a taxi stuck halfway across a bridge, with the urge to kill himself. He climbed up to the bridge’s railings and held out his arms. He leapt up like a bird, his wings carried him down, to a sea beyond everyone’s reach. Wasn’t there a song about that? In my sick bed I thought, what if I’m that man. Your words and the reporter’s words were the same distance away, Doctor. Everything was the same distance from my body. It was later on that I got to know the crowds in the city. I’m trying to get used to the noise. I have trouble getting words out. When I repeat a word too many times it loses its meaning. When I say I should sleep, the word “sleep” melts away. When I say my childhood, the word “child” crumbles, letter by letter.

“Provocative…profound…[Labyrinth], beautifully translated by Ümit Hussein, reads like a fever dream.” —New York Times

“Subtle…stirring…A thoughtful novel that asks many unanswerable questions worth pondering, Labyrinth is a mind-twister.” —NPR

“A cerebral philosophical meditation on memory and what it means to live without it…accessible and profound, bringing to mind Albert Camus and Patrick Modiano…this is a book that will undoubtedly linger in a reader’s mind.” —Publishers Weekly

“As this book opens, a blues singer attempts to take his life by jumping five hundred feet off a bridge into the Bosphorus. He survives but his memory is shattered—he knows the last Sultan has died, but the rest is a maze. This short, elliptical novel by the author of Istanbul, Istanbul follows him into its pathways, conjuring the ineluctable entanglement of place and person.” —John Freeman, Literary Hub

“This clever, elliptical tale…will linger in your memory long after you have read it.” —Book Riot

“[A] many-layered mystery with few answers but all the most interesting, searching questions about identity, memory, and intersecting lives…Labyrinth has been earning comparisons to Borges, and they’re well deserved, as a sense of intrigue and philosophy pervades this excellent, meditative novel.” —CrimeReads

“Sönmez brilliantly guides the reader…He uses storytelling—anecdotes, fables, and histories—to describe lessons that are valuable for comprehending life…The setting is vibrant, and though I’ve never been to Istanbul I feel a sense of familiarity with the city having read Sönmez’s novel.” —Literary Review

“A provocative and beautifully written story of the weave and tears of memory and identity worthy of Borges’s own Labyrinths. Long after finishing this marvelous book, I still think every day of the questions it raises.” —Eric Lax, author of Start to Finish

“A novelist with such a sense of both humanity and power is rare. With Labyrinth, Burhan Sönmez adds another important building block to his portrait of life today, with Turkey as the stage for all of our dramas. Underneath it all, he seems to be asking whether societies like ours can survive if we are allowed to remember.” —John Ralston Saul, author of The Collapse of Globalism; President Emeritus of PEN International