Find family secrets in Istanbul in “The Four Humors”
Instead of preparing for the MCAT, Sibel spends her days watching soap operas with her adorable grandmother and reading about the four moods – choler, bile, blood and phlegm – through which the ancients explained illness. She slipped into this rabbit hole looking for the causes of the headaches that began to plague her soon after arriving in Istanbul.
âThe old doctors focused not only on physical illnesses, but also on temperaments,â she says.
Due to her deep grief over her father’s sudden death in their Brooklyn home the previous winter, Sibel’s own temper is underwater. As a first-person narrator, she is slyly funny and unemotional. The dialogue is delivered without quotes, giving the novel an inner quality. This suits the novel well, as Siebel is preoccupied not only with bile and phlegm, but also with great moral questions.
Most poignantly, Siebel feels responsible for his father’s death. As a pre-med student, she knew the signs of a heart attack. Yet after her father collapsed in the kitchen, she froze seconds before her sister entered the room and quickly called 911.
Her immediate family reassures her that she is not to blame, but a mysterious woman with a tracheostomy hole in her throat confronted her at the winter funeral, accusing her of leaving her father behind. to die.
The unveiling of clues that slowly reveals the identity of this mysterious woman and the heavy secret her grandmother carried, form the burning and luminous core of the novel.
Sibel is obsessed with her father’s character: âI also wonder when my father turned into the easily irritable person he died under.
Young, Sibel’s parents were revolutionaries: âThey fought for an anti-capitalist Turkey in the 1970s. America made them change.
Above these questions is Sibel’s relationship with Cooper. The longer she stays in Turkey, secretly smoking, the more Sibel slumps, while the serious Cooper is energized. Devoured in trying to get Sibel to visit his father’s grave, he advises her to dissociate his guilt and his grief. He also got closer to his grandmother, Nermin, who teaches him how to cook his favorite recipes. He says he wants to stay in Turkey and help the Syrian refugees.
Nermin tries to cover up the toll that Parkinson’s disease inflicts on him. Instead, she chooses to try and take care of others, like her depressed granddaughter Sibel, apparently there to take care of her. Sibel’s sister Alara, also in mourning – though channeling her grief into a severe eating disorder – arrives in Istanbul just after Sibel and Cooper decide to take a break from their relationship.
While there is romance and intrigue in Sibel’s cat-and-mouse relationship with Cooper, Sibel’s love for her grandmother is stable and enduring. Just before the older woman lets go of her big secret, Sibel has a moment when she sees her grandmother in profile, like in a palimpsest: âShe goes out into the hallway and I follow her to the kitchen, where I lean against the door, and when she turns her head to see if I’m there, I see her young, like she’s my own sister, and I see what my mother says about my grandmother , from me and Alara, how strong and hard our browbone is above our eyes, how our lips have the same giant dip under our noses, a dip big enough to trap water pearls, and I remain motionless, in awe of herâ¦ â
Alara’s very direct arrival begins to pull Sibel out of the stasis of her grief. A crisis surrounding Alara’s anorexia and bulimia pushes all the characters out of their way and brings Sibel’s mother back to Turkey from New York. Even though they are reunited in a hospital room, Sibel begins to feel strangely happy, more complete.
After a pilgrimage to their mother’s home village – which seems a bit nailed down – Sibel, Alara and their mother prepare to leave Istanbul for New York.
Sibel recalls: âFlying to and from Istanbul is one of my favorite things to do. Hearing the Turkish language in transit spaces rubbed with all cultural signifiers fills me with something. A tribalism free of nationality, government, control. Maybe that’s what they call kinship.
SeÃ§kin’s first novel is almost too busy. But for the patient and dedicated reader, the rewards are immense. “The Four Humors” is a novel about the connection of dots – between people, countries and cultures. Sibel, the aspiring doctor, realizes that she doesn’t just have a body, it’s a body. And she not only has a feeling, she could be the feeling.
âThe Four Humorsâ unites and transports the reader with a breathtaking ending, demonstrating the power of stories to expand us all.
THE FOUR MOODS
By Mina SeÃ§kin
Catapult, 357 pages, $ 27
Jeffrey Ann Goudie is a freelance writer and literary critic.