A novel about memory and migration set between Germany and Turkey, Father’s Sea is a gentle and moving portrait of a family within the framework of a father–son relationship. Even as it explores political and social issues specific to its dual setting, this is a novel that focuses on the human aspect and as such will have broad appeal.
First-person narrator Yunus grows up as an only child in Hanover, but visits Turkey with his parents every summer. He is thirteen when his father, Zeki, has two strokes that leave him almost entirely paralysed – unable to speak or move beyond blinking, he has “locked-in syndrome”. Zeki is looked after in a care home before being transferred back to the family house, where Yunus’ mother cares for him until his death ten years later.
Thematically engaged with memory, Father’s Sea is structured as Yunus’ attempts to retrace his father’s life and remember the man he was before he became paralysed. Like the titular sea, his memories flow into one another, with a few distinct moments standing out for their emotional significance. In a reflection of memory’s non-linear nature, Utlu makes large chronological leaps; however, these are interwoven skilfully so as never to interrupt the narrative. From start to finish, we see how Yunus develops from a self-centred teenager to a thoughtful young man, struggling to hold on to his father and re-evaluate what he knows of the past.
Other family members and friends play more of a supporting role – even Yunus’ mother, Senem, is a comparatively minor figure in the novel. This close perspective allows us to see how Yunus slowly changes, and also allows Utlu to explore related themes such as masculinity, identity and belonging. While Zeki’s condition is very specific, the experience of coming to terms with a close relative’s serious medical diagnosis is one that will sadly be familiar to many readers, lending the novel emotional weight and relatability.
Unflinching when it comes to complex emotions and the effect that profound loss can have on a life, Father’s Sea is a melancholic yet compelling work that demonstrates Utlu’s great skill as a storyteller.