“It only takes two facing mirrors to construct a labyrinth.”
J. L. Borges, Seven Nights

“It is not man who discovers the word, it is the word that comes to him.”
Pastor Montmollin’s sermon at Borges’s funeral

Labyrinth, (174 pages), is Burhan Sönmez’s fourth novel (2018).

It is the story of Boratin, a blues singer, who attempts suicide by jumping off the Bosphorous Bridge in Istanbul, but opens his eyes in hospital. He loses his memory and can’t remember why he wished to end his life.

He remembers only things that are unrelated to himself, but confuses their time. When he sees the figurine of Jesus and the Virgin Mary he recognises them but he cannot work out whether they lived thousands of years ago or just few years ago. He knows the Ottoman Empire fell, and that the last sultan died, but has no idea when. His memory falters when remembering civilizations, while life, like a labyrinth, leads him down different paths.

From the confusion of his social and individual memory, he is faced with two questions. The first is related to the body. Does physical recognition provide a sense of identity? The second question concerns the mind. Which is more liberating for a man, or a society: knowing the past, or forgetting it?

Labyrinth, embroidered with Borgesian micro-stories, flows smoothly on the surface while traversing sharp bends beneath the current.

“The book reads like a fever dream. Boratin is a listless existential hero who often drifts through his days with an alienation befitting a Camus protagonist.” (The New York Times)

“This profound book navigates the psychogeography of Istanbul to interrogate that most mysterious creature: the self. Sönmez’s masterful novel, Labyrinth, which traverses these themes with a lucidly Borgesian, yet stirringly original hand.” (Asymptote Journal)

“Compact, thought-provoking, and gently exquisite, Labyrinth, the fourth novel by Turkish author Burhan Sönmez, quietly establishes him as one of Europe’s great contemporary authors.” (World Literature Today)

“Sönmez uses storytelling — anecdotes, fables, and histories — to describe lessons that are valuable for comprehending life. These tales offer morals by which people should live.” (The Literary Review)

“Accessible and profound, bringing to mind Albert Camus and Patrick Modiano.” (Publishers Weekly)

“This short, elliptical novel by the author of Istanbul Istanbul follows him into its pathways, conjuring the ineluctable entanglement of place and person.” (Literary Hub)

Labyrinth, like many fictional works written in reaction to political oppression, is an allegory that explores the fractured nature of the individual in a society suspended between a rich, complicated past and an uncertain future.” (Washington Independent Review of Books)

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