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Madonna in a Fur Coat

Sabahattin Ali's heartbreaking novel Madonna in a Fur Coat spins a beguiling love story. Between the first and second world wars, Raif, a young Turkish translator, travels to Berlin for work. There he falls in love with Maria Puder, a cabaret performer and art model depicted as Madonna in a city-famous painting. The two begin a tumultuous but genuine relationship that's interrupted when Raif is called back to Turkey.

The story is at first narrated by Raif's nameless clerk, then in the translator's own voice through a diary the clerk reads. With perceptiveness and compassion, Ali depicts the sexual politics of the time and the heady tension between his male and female characters. "Why is it that even in the way you beg, there is dominance, and pity in the way we refuse?" Maria asks Raif in what becomes a powerful monologue on female empowerment. In equal measure, Ali explores preconceptions of masculinity through Raif's vulnerability and his capacity for intimacy. Relationships are endangered, he shows, by misunderstanding and misjudgment more than malice.

Ali was a Turkish literary icon, imprisoned more than once for his writings. Madonna in a Fur Coat was first published in 1943, and this English translation conveys the author's emotional intelligence and crisp lyricism. Its sad tinge of fatalism belies its deeper, more dynamic aspects. Love both tortures and redeems the soul. --Scott Neuffer, writer, poet, editor of trampset