Sabahattin Ali translated from the Turkish by Maureen Freely, by Alexander Dawe

Madonna in a Fur Coat

Publication Date: Nov 07, 2017

224 pp

Trade Paperback

List Price US $15.95
Trim Size (H x W): 5.5 x 8.25
ISBN: 978-1-59051-880-9


List Price US $11.99
ISBN: 978-1-59051-881-6

Available in English in the United States for the first time, this best-selling Turkish classic of love and alienation in a changing world captures Berlin between the two world wars.

A shy young man leaves his home in rural Turkey to learn a trade and discover life in 1920s Berlin. There, in the city’s bustling streets, elegant museums, charged politics, and notorious cabarets, a chance meeting with a beautiful half-Jewish artist transforms him forever. Caught between his desire for freedom from tradition and his yearning to belong, he struggles to hold on to the new life he has found with the woman he loves.

Emotionally powerful, intensely atmospheric, and touchingly profound, Madonna in a Fur Coat is a novel about new beginnings, the relentless pull of family ties, and the unfathomable nature of the human soul. First published in 1943, this unforgettable tale, with its quiet yet insistent defiance of social norms, has been topping best-seller lists in Turkey since 2013.

Excerpt from Madonna in a Fur Coat

Every afternoon, I would stroll in, pretending to stop to inspect each painting in the gallery, as my impatience grew. For all I wanted was to go straight to my Madonna. When at last I reached it, I would make as if I had noticed the painting for the first time. And there I would remain, until the doors of the gallery were about to close. I soon became a familiar figure to the guards and the handful of artists who visited the gallery as often as I did. They would greet me with wide smiles, and follow this strange art enthusiast with their eyes. In the end I gave up masking my intentions. I would walk straight to the Madonna in a Fur Coat, settling myself down on the bench across from it. I would stare and stare, until I could stare no longer, and had to cast my eyes down to the floor.

Inevitably, people noticed and were curious. And then one day my worst fear came true. Most of the artists who frequented the gallery were men with large foulards and long hair that tumbled down over their dark suits, but there was also a young woman who joined them from time to time. I thought she must be a painter too.

One day she came over to me. “It seems you are particularly fascinated by this painting,” she said. “You come to look at it every day.”

I looked up, to be undone by a knowing, mocking smile. To save myself, I looked down. But there, just ahead of me, were her pointed shoes, waiting for me to explain myself.

“Finally available in English, this 1943 Turkish classic from a journalist twice imprisoned for his political views limns the emotionally wrought relationship between a reserved young Turkish man and an unconventional woman artist in interwar Berlin. … Ali’s affecting story of love and loss is both timeless and grounded in its distinctive setting, with sometimes old-fashioned charm that will appeal to many readers.” —Library Journal

“A rich novel… This fascinating story veers in surprising and revealing directions.” —Publishers Weekly

“The surprise bestseller…Read, loved and wept over by men and women of all ages.” —Guardian

“A rare point of common cultural experience for a deeply polarized country.” —New York Times

“Ali (1907–48), a dissident Turkish writer imprisoned and later, it is believed, murdered by the state, originally published this then largely overlooked love story in 1943. Decades later, it holds a place on Turkey’s best-seller lists, arguably in response to the recent government crackdown on civil liberties. Available in English in the U.S. for the first time, Ali’s memorable novel explores fatalism and the complications of temperament, family ties, and unconventional love.” —Booklist  

“Very, very romantic, coming of age novel… for someone who likes a big epic book.” —WNYC The Brian Lehrer Show

“Madonna in a Fur Coat follows a young, fragile Turkish man’s love for a charismatic German artist…Like Sabahattin Ali, he is a dreamy young man in love with books and is considered a failure by people whose cruelties towards the less fortunate he never fails to see… With a few masterly brush strokes, Ali draws a portrait of New Turkey’s model middle-class family.” —Believer Magazine 

“…an exquisitely precise rendering of what life was like in Berlin in the 1920s, prior to the worst of what would be the brutally inevitable march into World War II…. [a] moving ending… Where the book is really beautiful is in its own portrait: that of a repressed young man trying to be more than what he is, through the agency of a beautiful, impulsive woman’s soul.” —Huffington Post

“A simple yet gorgeously written love story about a shy, cynical young man named Raif, who is sent by his father to Berlin to learn the scented soap-making trade… It seems to me that that which inspires a younger generation to read, en masse, a seventy year-old book is the same thing that inspires them to fill the streets.” —Tin House 

“A poignant coming-of-age tale, drenched in disillusionment. The gap between hope and reality, art and ordinary life, has been explored in many other novels, but rarely with the unaffected simplicity of Madonna in a Fur Coat …The translation by Maureen Freely and Alexander Dawe is crisp, capturing Ali’s directness and clarity of language.” —William Armstrong, Times Literary Supplement

“Offsets inter-war Berlin’s decadent dazzle with bouts of shade, murk, and melancholy…recreates a vanished era and dramatizes a doomed relationship, and does so with verve, depth, and poignancy. The result is a miniature masterpiece.” —Malcolm Forbes, The National

“A gorgeously melancholic romance…a cautionary tale certain to beguile.” —Eileen Battersby, Irish Times

“Its prose sparkles with the friction between Eastern conservatism and Western decadence. This is above all a tale of young love and disenchantment, of missed opportunities and passion’s elusive, flickering flame… a little reminiscent of Turgenev’s First Love, with a hero every bit as gauche, and a twist every bit as bitter.” —Toby Lichtig, Financial Times

“A latter-day Sorrows of Young Werther.” Asian Review of Books 

“Exquisitely translated, perfectly captures the style and rhythm of this gripping love story.” —Selçuk Altun, internationally bestselling author of The Sultan of Byzantium

“I was touched by the intimacy of this story and the loneliness expressed by the characters that Ali describes. Although written in 1943 by Turkish author, Sabahattin Ali (who was killed in 1948), the feelings elicited in this relationship seem relevant today. It is a love story that is sad but very powerful! I couldn’t put it down and yearned for some happiness for the characters that was not to be. A must read!” —Stephanie Crowe, Page & Palette in Fairhope, AL

“Translated into English for the first time, Madonna in a Fur Coat is a beautiful little masterpiece of interwar relations. An office worker finds the handwritten memoir of his dying coworker; in it, his coworker’s memoir of a love affair in Berlin. Compared to The Great Gatsby, its incredible portrayal of smart, disaffected youth and they ways in which they grow up adds so much to our selection of translated literature from Turkey.” —Sara B., Brazos Book store in Houston, TX

1. Does the story of Raif Efendi’s love affair with Maria Puder move you as much as it moves the narrator?

2. What writers and stories animate Raif Efendi’s imagination before he goes to Germany? Do the daydreams he has while in Istanbul resemble his adventure in Germany?

3. Describe Raif Efendi as you first meet him through the narrator’s description. Does your understanding of him change once the narrator starts reading his notebook? How?

4. What draws Raif to Maria? How are they similar, and how are they different?

5. Do you think there is any significance to Maria being half Jewish and half German, and not having blond hair and blue eyes? Why or why not?

6. On pages 53–54 Raif says, “No matter what I had bottled up inside me, I was absurdly anxious about letting it out.” Why is he so anxious about revealing himself? In what actions does he reveal his true self to Maria? How does this anxiety about revealing himself mutate and intensify after he returns from Germany and believes Maria has spurned him?

7. What does Maria say she wants from a man? Is she able to find those things with Raif?

8. Raif is compared to a girl by his parents (p 52) and several times by Maria (see pp 90, 93, 116). What qualities about Raif make people liken him to a girl or a woman? Similarly, what qualities in herself does Maria say make her like a man?

9. How is the narrator changed after having read Raif’s notebook?

10. Do you think Raif is able to find some kind of redemption for his betrayal of Maria in his friendship with the narrator, or in allowing the narrator to read his notebook?