Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 16 December 2018

Book review: More reveals human trafficking from the villain’s perspective

We review Hakan Gunday's harrowing and haunting tale of a family of Turkish people smugglers.
More by Hakan Gunday is published by Arcade Publishing.
More by Hakan Gunday is published by Arcade Publishing.

One of the many astute moves made by Hakan Günday’s timely and affecting novel More is its choice of narrator. His epic story about the current migrant crisis and the nefarious business of human trafficking isn’t told from the perspective of one of the migrants; rather it is told by Gaza, a young Turk who assists his despicable father Ahad in the family trafficking business from the age of nine.

The book’s graphic descriptions of decomposing bodies and sadistic acts of violence, both physical and psychological, are not for the faint-hearted, and can even seem gratuitous at times. Then again, perhaps a novel such as this one needs to shock, needs to function as a wake-up call.

Gaza and his father live on the shores of the Aegean Sea, where they operate “the reservoir”, a sealed underground holding station for migrants hoping to reach Greece: “[They assumed that] if there is a famine- afflicted, war-wracked hell on earth, there must surely be a heaven as well,” says Gaza, looking back on his life as an adult. “But they were wrong. They’d all been played for fools.”

As the book unfolds, we realise the extent to which Gaza, a particularly clever and perceptive individual, has been corrupted and dehumanised. The mere sight of sawdust, which is put down to soak up blood, makes him nauseous, and he is deeply scarred by his father’s cruel lies, one of which concerns Gaza’s mother wanting to kill him, then dying herself in childbirth.

The boy has only male role models, all of whom, from policeman Uncle Yadigar to trafficking ship captains Harmin and Doder, are morally bankrupt. When Gaza takes control of the reservoir in his father’s absence, he begins his own stomach-churning experiments, toying with the fortunes of desperate, temporarily incarcerated individuals who are awaiting news of their transit to Greece. These are pages that make the reader wince; pages that show how trafficking dehumanises migrants and traffickers alike.

Elsewhere, one of the book’s key thematic motifs is Gaza’s imagined internal dialogue with Cuma, a 26-year-old Afghani immigrant whose death he’d caused by forgetting to activate the air conditioner in the back of a transportation truck. This tragedy is compounded by the fact that Cuma was one of the few individuals to show Gaza kindness, making him a paper frog that Gaza carries with him, like a kind of talisman, through madness and his own near-death experience, for the next 16 years.

Only the friendly spectre of Cuma, it seems, can help Gaza make some kind of sense of his life. Indeed, when it finally comes, the university education that the young Gaza had been so worthy of brings confusion and pain rather than solace.

This is the first English-language translation of More. Early in the book, Gaza explains that “more” is one of the few words the migrants he encounters know in Turkish, largely because they always need more food, more water.

The book has already won a Novel of the Year prize in Günday’s native Turkey, and a prestigious le prix Médecis étranger award for books translated into French.

There are moments when Zeynep Beler’s translation from the Turkish feels clunky, but never to the serious detriment of the story.

Günday has created a moral maze of a novel, making us think deeply about one of the most pressing and tragic crises of our modern world. You can’t help but wonder how he went about researching More, a story as plausible as it is unsettling.

James McNair writes for Mojo magazine and The Independent.