A contributing factor to the popularity of certain long distance hiking trails around the world is the way they have been eulogized in works of literature. The Lycian Way has now too served as the backdrop for a literary work. Inspired by a true story, Ayse’s Trail by Atulya K. Bingham, recounts the adventures of a Turkish woman as she hikes along the south coast of Turkey.
As Ayse walks along the Lycian Way, we learn about her coming of age in Turkey in the 1990’s and 2000’s. With the country undergoing a massive transition, it chronicles Ayse’s passage from a member of the Istanbul bourgeois to societal outcast to independent rural denizen. As Ayse makes the decisions that shape her life, we gain a window into the conventions, pressures and customs of the world around her. This narrative emerges as Ayse reflects on her past during her trek. The story takes a while to get going but still presents a compelling and interesting look at one woman’s escape from the life of the Turkish urban elite.
Three or four narratives are flowing in parallel throughout the novel: Ayse’s journey on the trail, Ayse’s past life, the story of Persian General Harpagos’ conquest of Lycia in the 6th century BC and anthropomorphized inserts from the perspective of natural objects like kestrels, turtles and the wind. While at times these narratives intertwine seamlessly, they do leave the reader with a discordant reading experience. This choppiness is further exacerbated by awkward transitions between the narratives all-throughout.
One understands what the author is trying to do here. Via these multiple narratives, she is trying to give her readers a better understanding of the region and the subject. Instead though, she ends up distracting from a compelling central narrative. The history of the region could have been woven into the story better while still retaining the focus on Ayse’s journey. The reader is also distracted the employment of too many creative writing techniques and an over-dramatization of the travails of hiking a section of the Lycian Way.
This book reminds me of a cook who has been given great ingredients and, while still serving up a decent dish, overpowers the beauty of the ingredients with her spices and cooking style. It just makes you wonder how good the dish would have been if the original ingredients were allowed to shine. Nevertheless, for the author’s first attempt at a novel, it is not a bad effort. If you can overlook some of its shortcomings, you will enjoy an interesting tale of a woman’s journey along the Lycian Way.
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