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The Time of Mute Swans

Translated into English by Kenneth Dakan


Street battles, kidnapping, torture, fascists, communists, rocky marriages and class tensions — and most of it seen through the eyes of two 8-year-old children living in Ankara, in the summer before the 1980 coup in Turkey. Going by the author’s dedication, to her two nephews “who lived through the July 16, 2016, coup attempt at the same age I lived through the September 12, 1980, coup,” Temelkuran is drawing on her own experiences in constructing this political bricolage.

Her guides are Ali, a “weakly boy” from the poorer side of town, and Ayse, the daughter of a troubled middle-class couple. Despite their class differences, the families are on the same side politically — the left — and the children become friends after Ali’s mother takes a cleaning job at Ayse’s house. As the political unrest escalates, the children do their own plotting, first to release butterflies inside the Turkish Parliament, then to save the swans of Swan Park, which are apparently being subjected to “an Avian Deflighting Technique.” “Until the swans are saved,” the children pledge to each other, “and the butterflies get into Parliament … Even if we get really tired, even if we get sleepy … we will resist … I swear it! O.K., we’re done.”

It’s a perilous undertaking to tell such a complicated story through the imagined magical thinking of childhood.


“Controversial Turkish journalist and novelist Temelkuran . . . reimagines one of Turkey’s darkest times with hope for its future.” - Booklist

“[The Time of Mute Swans] moves skillfully between history and fiction. . . . Set in Ankara in the tense summer leading up to the Turkish coup of 1980, this novel centers on two children . . . who contend with the strife of the adult world. . . . The end of [their] innocence is vividly evoked.” - The New Yorker

“Who knew they still wrote books like this? Gloriously immersive, filled with details of family life, childhood and love that had me in tears. Epic and miniature; funny and terrifying; it’s everything I want in a book. What a lucky reader to pick this up!” - Andrew Sean Greer

Territories: US (Skyhorse Publishing), Albania (Rexhep Hida), Armenia (Antares Media Holding), Denmark (Rod & Co), Germany (Hoffman & Campe), Poland (Ksiazkowe Klimaty), Syria (Dar Al Hiwar)
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