As the title hints, a lot of Ays̨egül Savas̨’s Walking on the Ceiling takes place on walks. As a child, Nurunisa (Nunu) takes walks with her mother in Istanbul where they try to reclaim a bit of normalcy in the wake of her father’s death. As an adult, Nunu walks in Paris with M. a writer who published a novel set in Istanbul. In moments of reflection after all of these walks, Nunu slowly tells the truth about her life at last.
Nunu is a damaged soul, but it took a while for me to learn just how much. When we first meet her, Nunu seems as though she has broken away from her sad family life in Turkey to make a new one in Paris. She doesn’t attend classes at the Sorbonne and doesn’t have a job, but at least she’s not walking on eggshells around her depressed mother anymore. But then we find out that Nunu had to return to Istanbul for a year to care for her dying mother. And then we see the flourishing and sudden failure of her friendship with M. Walking on the Ceiling shifts from a story about a girl shaped by her relationship to her mother to a young woman getting a bit of revenge against the people she feels have taken advantage of her.
Nunu sees all her relationships to others as transactions, as performances. With her mother, Nunu is quiet. She stays out of her mother’s way as her mother drowns in grief and anger. With her boyfriend Luke, she parcels out rewritten memories of neglect for him to psychoanalyze. To her classmates (when she does show up for class), she is an exotic expert on Turkey and Turkishness. And for M., Nunu is a source of inspiration and information for his next project. Nunu gives and gives, until she can’t give anymore—at which point she does things that make it hard to see her as a suffering victim.
Walking on the Ceiling is a marvel of subtle emotional shifts. These undercurrents of deception, obligation, and eventual honesty run below mouth-watering descriptions of Turkish food, the archaeology of Istanbul, and family stories that run the gamut from funny to depressing. I’ll admit that I read it with a cynical eye, because I thought I knew what was going to happen with M. When it turned out that I was completely wrong about everyone in this book, I fell in love with this book. Normally, I hate being wrong. (Ask anyone who knows me.) But I love being wrong about stories because it means that I have found something original. I love being surprised by endings that turn out to be absolutely fitting but that I didn’t see coming. Readers who enjoy unusual settings, emotional depth, and ingenious reversals will adore this book.
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss for review consideration.