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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Life's Good, Brother

Nâzım Hikmet

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To purchase Life's Good, Brother

Title: Life's Good, Brother
Author: Nâzım Hikmet
Genre: Novel
Written: (1964) (Eng. 2013)
Length: 190 pages
Original in: Turkish
Availability: Life's Good, Brother - US
Life's Good, Brother - UK
Life's Good, Brother - Canada
Life's Good, Brother - India
La vie est belle, mon vieux - France
Die Romantiker - Deutschland
Gran bella cosa è vivere, miei cari - Italia
  • Turkish title: Yaşamak Güzel Şey Be Kardeşim
  • Translated and with an Introduction by Mutlu Konuk Blasing

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Our Assessment:

B+ : interesting -- both stylistically and as a glimpse of those times

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Publishers Weekly . 4/3/2013 .
Die Zeit . 16/10/2008 Stefan Weidner

  From the Reviews:
  • "Although reflective of the turbulent era, the back-and-forth structure weakens narrative cohesion, especially considering how little there is to distinguish the inner lives of the characters. However, many graceful gems outweigh the faults, making it worth the time." - Publishers Weekly

  • "Das Buch, jetzt wieder aufgelegt, ist ein Jahrhundertbuch." - Stefan Weidner, Die Zeit

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Nâzım Hikmet is best known as a poet, with even works such as his epic novel Human Landscapes from My Country written in verse; the posthumously published Life's Good, Brother is the closest to a traditional work of prose fiction he published. Even so, it is stylistically and formally strikingly inventive -- and, clearly autobiographical, also of considerable interest as a personal document.
       The central figure in the novel is the Hikmet-like young Communist Ahmet Kadri, and the basic structure of the novel finds him back in Turkey, in Izmir, in 1925, after some time studying in Moscow: the authorities are after him ("The arrests have begun"; two Ahmet Kadris from Istanbul have been questioned) and after being bitten by a dog Ahmet must also wait out the incubation period, to see if he might have contracted rabies. The novel centers on his life in this limbo, hidden away in a hut, counting the days -- many of the short chapter-titles keeping track of time the way he does: 'The Sixth Line' etc. (as he marks each day with a chalk line). This idea of marking time with a crude line on the back of the door also comes up in other situations, with the novel eventually also including these -- chapters such as 'Lines at the Istanbul Police Headquarters'.
       Where the narrative focuses on Ahmet it often shifts -- disorientingly -- rapidly and often between first and third person perspectives. In some paragraphs the perspective shifts back and forth between I and he sentence by sentence; elsewhere it is more consistent -- but rarely entirely so. It's an unusual technique -- and, like a camera-perspective that shifts from exterior to through-the-eyes-of-the-character, one that takes some getting used to.
       In addition, the story focuses only partly on the 1925-present, as Ahmet's account is both reminiscence, such as of his time in Moscow, as well as a look ahead to future events. A significant secondary storyline follows Ismail, who takes care of Ahmet while they wait to see if he does indeed have rabies, and Ismail's later years in jail and the wife he finds.
       Though written in the 1960s, much of the novel has the feel of 1920s expressionism -- especially the Moscow scenes. In this time or revolutionary fervor, both love and ideology play significant roles in Ahmet's life; relationships -- romantic and ideological -- are close but there's also a sense of fatalism, given what's possibly in store for many of those he is close to. (Ahmet also briefly stands watch over Lenin's open coffin, even glimpsing Krupskaya.)
       Life's Good, Brother is an exile's novel, and a look back, Hikmet reflecting on his life's path -- and finding:

Not books or word-of-mouth propaganda or my social condition brought me where I am. Anatolia brought me where I am. The Anatolia I had seen only on the surface, from the outside. My heart brought me where I am. That's how it is ...
       In the short final chapter, 'My Guests', the author steps forward and reflects on his cast of characters -- his 'guests' -- and the past that he's brought back to life here. Twice he repeats:
My guests haven't aged. They're still the age they were when I last saw them.
       The second time he adds: "but I'm past sixty" -- and then the novel's poignant closing line: "If I could just live five more years ...". So Ahmet's countdown of the days until he can be sure he doesn't (or does ...) have rabies reflect the author's own race against time and death -- but while his characters could chalk up more lines, Hikmet didn't have much more time, and didn't make it for those five more years.
       An unusual novel -- especially in its presentation -- Life's Good, Brother also offers a striking picture of youthful revolutionary activity and fervor in those times and circumstances, and the Turkish experience in the 1920s and beyond. Though very personal -- and hence of particular interest to those curious about Hikmet himself -- it is also of broader historical interest, a fascinating complement to both Soviet fiction of and about the 1920s as well as to other works about Turkey (among other things, it's an interesting follow-up to the entirely different The Time Regulation Institute by Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar --- which, amazingly, was also written in the early 1960s).

- M.A.Orthofer, 5 January 2014

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Life's Good, Brother: Reviews: Nâzım Hikmet: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Turkish author Nâzım Hikmet was born in 1902 and died in Soviet exile in 1963.

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© 2014 the complete review

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