Cumhuriyet Newspaper, July 14, 2011
Hakan Yaman is taking his reader to an extraordinary journey of a group of Italian Levantines in 1870s and into the pages of a diary. The adventures of love, jealousy, betrayal and revenge of these people who live far from the symptoms of the decline of the Ottoman Empire are told with a magnificent fiction and with a wording as impressive as an Italian opera, played in an Agean scenery.
Non-Muslim minorities who has settled in the cities of harbors by taking the advantage of the privileges, given by the Ottoman Empire in sea trade in the nineteenth century used to be called as Levantines. Izmir was one of these brilliant cities of Levant (East). The travelers of the time have called Izmir as ‘The Capital of Levant’, ‘The Pearl of Levant’ on their travel books. Although they used to belong to different churches and different nationalities, the common point of the Levantines was their economic power that they have gained by the trade. During their stay in the city they have not only turned the city into an important trade center but also given rise to the penetration of modernity into the social life.
Most of them have returned to their countries by the termination of the capitulations after the Treaty of Lausanne. Hakan Yaman’s novel, Fall Scented Sins is telling us the short inside story of an Italian Levantine family in the nineteenth century. Ottoman-Russian War, afterwards the Ayastefanos Treaty and the Treaty of Berlin, turbulent days of the empire have all kept away from this family, while the trade life and entertainments with Izmir’s delicate scenery on the background of the novel has been described. As though the city and the people were in a glass globe and haven’t been influenced by all that was happening during a turbulent period of the empire.
THE LAST TEMPTATION
It seems that the main topics of the novel are love, jealousy and betrayal but in fact, reader is in front of the several stories, placed one inside the other. The novel is expressing a short period of time (two weeks) through the diary of Alfredo’s wife Isabella. On the other hand, Alfredo’s fifty years in the past is analyzed by the flash backs. The detailed descriptions from the art, fashion to the architecture and painting movements of the period supports the main topic. Yaman has described Izmir with all her beauties and with the details of the period.
Alfredo waits for his friend Nicolo drinking vermouth in his workroom with the bay view as he does in all Thursdays. He finds his wife’s diary she has written twenty years ago while checking the drawers of his table. He starts reading it after defeating his curiosity and learns from the diary that he has been cheated by his wife and his best friend during a trip, they have made years ago. Alfredo’s whole world comes crashing around him and he tries to sort things out by talking with the God. He has to do something like all husbands who has learned the betrayal does. Although this betrayal remained behind the shadows of the past years, Alfredo’s sorrow and his internal interrogation takes him to the past, to his childhood. He returns back to the first day when has cried, when he has been cheated; he returns back to his nine. His father’s leave without telling anyone, his mother’s death and a mysterious man, he never forgets and never knows who he is becomes his nightmares. Reader witnesses the interrogations about peace and happiness of the children who has been cheated by his father and left alone with the questions rather than the betrayed crying man in the terrace. By the mean time, Nicolo is on the way to Alfredo’s house like he does every Thursdays.
His youth, his marriage with Isabella, his new set ups in his business, the improvement on his financial opportunities, his children’s growing is expressed by the flash backs in Alfredo’s mind. We realize by these flash backs that Alfredo’s wounds which he has taken during his childhood and his youth were not cured. The betrayal triggers the nightmares of his childhood again. His pain that is increased by the betrayal turns into an inconsolable sorrow. His hesitation on taking his revenge and the dilemmas he has got about facing with the realities makes him a hesitant and coward character. He has got a gun in his hand since the beginning of the novel but the reader can not really understand who he shoots even on the last page.
Isabella and Alfredo go on a very hard trip together with their close friends in the fifth year of their marriage. They leave Izmir to visit the Seven Churches in the Book of Revelation of the Bible. The extraordinary characters of the group make the trip rather different than a pilgrimage. Old and drunk poet Luca, his beautiful Spanish girlfriend Gabriella, Alfredo’s partner and his horrible wife, Alfredo’s close friend Nicolo the womanizer and his young lover, Isabella’s closest friend and her ideal husband, old priest of the church, French archeologist and his student… References to the life styles of the rich people of the period, protection of the artist and the priests are written by Isabella’s pen with a meaningful wording. The reader meets other characters through Isabella’s eyes while he learns all what is happening during this journey from her diary. When Isabella’s un-objective descriptions go to an extreme end, author describes all these once again in more objectively in the main text. This could be likened to the master’s observation on an apprentice who deviates from the realities with enthusiasm of writing.
Journey and the churches compose a charming Agean scenery with all details. Isabella’s dilemma between the God’s words in her ears and the apprehension of the devil in her mind are underlined by the readings from the Bible in the archeological sites and by highlighting the holy aspect of the journey. The redundant wording of Isabella’s diary which she has written by imitating the British Ladies, skillfully differentiated from the main novel by the author. As a woman, as a wife, Isabella is questioning her habits and her life which consist of boring repetitions. She starts to question her marriage because of fainting feelings in years. Sometimes her desire of having sex with somebody else breaks off her connection with the realities. She starts to write her desires rather than her daily experiences to her diary. This desire drifts her into an irresistible storm of excitement. During the journey she writes all the details which she can not explain to anyone to her notebook. She tries to find valid reasons to cheat her husband knowing that she can not do it without cause. She thinks that she can do it if she can be cheated first. Therefore, she is almost praying to have been cheated by her husband.
REVENGE AND AN EXCITING EXPERIENCE
Nothing is seen as it really is and the reality changes depending on what a woman would like to believe. Believing that Alfredo cheats her with a woman in the group, Isabella feels jealous. She waits for an opportunity to believe such a thing. She thinks that their relations with her husband became very ordinary since a long time. The light of excitement of their marriage tends to fade. Believing that Alfredo does not miss any opportunity to cheat her, she thinks to she has a right to do the same. She believes that only an eye for eye can put out the fire of revenge in her. In fact, she has made up her mind and chosen her victim before to go on this trip journey. She chooses the most proper candidate from the group and tries to seduce Nicolo. If a woman really desires something she gains it sooner or later. Her aim was really to get revenge or she only seeks opportunity to cheat her husband? Isabella writes these hesitant thoughts on her diary and finally she cheats her husband. Now she had a big sin against God, moreover she has done this during a visit to holy places. We can not say that she is not regretful. She has confessed her sins by writing anyway. She has gotten revenge from her husband and also had a very exciting experience that she has desired with all her hearth. After the journey ends everybody return their homes and this secret is buried into the diary. She never cheats her husband again. Life goes on until a household servant leaves the diary she has found sometime ago to the Alfredo’s workroom after getting angry to Isabella.
‘ Alfredo has found himself reading what Isabella has written about the day they have visited Laodicea after remembering the days they have met and got married. Although the thoughts flying in his mind break him from what he reads and take him to far away, he knew what he was looking for. He was searching a sign. A sign just like Isabella has described on her diary that she has searched on his face. A sign which was stuck between the lines, she has written, a poisonous sign that will take the worm, nibbling her from inside, out of the hole.’ (p. 134)
[…] ‘I remember the year we have met, the days we got married. Everything was so different. However, it hasn’t been so long but any love, even loving somebody like crazy can not resist time. Even the most passionate loves are metamorphosing, getting old, leaving traces behind but are wearing off’ (p.140 from Isabella’s diary).
A woman’s chase on passion, her efforts on justifying herself by hiding this desire under the cover of revenge, questioning of the freedom of women who are under social pressure in the men’s world, the hurt, date back to childhood of a man who was hit hard by a betrayal remained in the past are all expressed with the descriptions of an Izmir which is very different than today’s city. Yaman presents the Levantines who we used to live together with and who we have called as others, with the life style of the period through love and betrayal in the Fall Scented Sins in which belief, loyalty and friendship is questioned.
Fall Scented Sins / Hakan Yaman / Doğan Kitap/ 272 p.