April 1, 2020: “The Trojan War Museum” by Ayşe Papatya Bucak

Hello, Story366!

Today is April 1, April Fool’s Day. Really, not my favorite “holiday,” as I don’t suffer fools, even when I’m the fool, well at all. I hated it in grade school when dopey kids would go up to each other and say things like “I think you’re cool—April Fools!” Even the teachers would get into it with shit like “No homework tonight, kids—April Fools!” This is all pretty innocent, but when it gets cruel and unusual—people faking accidents, injuries, and tragedies, it’s just stupid. I can’t remember specific incidents, but I remember them happening and hating it, fake stories of death and disappointment, only to have the rug pulled out moments after.

Just today, our oldest son, while we were working/home-school at the table, started yelling from upstairs, crying that his ceiling fans cut off his fingers. The Karen and I jumped ran to the stairs, believing him; for a flash, the whole awful scene ran through my head: all the blood, my boy in shock, the severed fingers, me collecting them into a container, the ER, the therapy, the lifelong trauma, everything.

When he appeared at the top of the stairs, smiling, saying, “April Fools!” I was pissed. I shouldn’t have been—he’s 13 and I should have seen it coming—but damn, what a terrible thing to think.

And I haven’t even mentioned the possible damage to that ceiling fan.

My biggest April Fool’s shame came four years ago, during the initial Story366 year, at AWP. I woke in my hotel, reading a message from my SmokeLong Quarterly cohorts that they were changing the name of the magazine to something like SpeakLong Quarterly or StupidMikeLong Quarterly, as they wanted to separate the magazine from the evils of tobacco. Rushing to get ready and be at the conference center on time, I wasn’t thinking and just took it at face value: We were changing our name. Okay, cool.

Tara Laskowski, then SLQ’s editor, stopped by the Moon City table later that day and said something like Did you see my note? I answered her and responded that I had, that I thought it was drastic, but a good idea. Or whatever. Tara looked at me for a second, sort of like a child looks at a brand-new toy, realizing that I didn’t know: I was believing her goof, her April Fool’s joke. She then stuttered something out, informing me that it wasn’t real, and might have even murmured April Fools. Her next expression revealed that I’d made her day, that I’d made her conference, that I’d perhaps made her life. She did not let me hear the end of that for some time. I’m not even sure why I’m bringing it back up. Ugh.

For today’s post, I read from Ayşe Papatya Bucak‘s 2019 debut, The Trojan War Museum, out from Norton. Before today, I had not read Bucak’s stories, so I looked forward to jumping in.

I started by reading the first few stories in the book. The opener, “The History of Girls,” is set at a Muslim girls’ boarding school in the aftermath a gasline explosion. The blast (if it’s the gas and not something else …) kills half the girls and leaves the rest buried in the rubble, many of them hurt and unable to move. More importantly, the girls who have died, the dead girls, are still present, visiting the live girls as ghosts. The events of the next few days are chronicled, both sets of girls discussing their situation, the ghosts encouraging the living to hang on, even as more of the girls join their ranks.

Next up, “A Cautionary Tale,” is about Yusuf Ismail, the Terrible Turk, Turkey’s greatest wrestling champion. Part of this story reads like a tall tale, while another part reads as a cautionary tale of sorts, as the title might indicate, Ismail facing the consequences of fame and fortune. Another aspect of the story, one offset in italics, is what seems to be an interview, maybe for a job or a bank loan, where the interviewer is telling the tales of the Terrible Turk, while the interviewee has no idea why any of it is part of the interview.

The third story, “Iconography,” is about a young Turkish woman, studying at an American university, who decides to stop eating. Much is made of her choice and predicament, and when asked, the girl says she will not eat until everything in the world is changed—when asked for what specifically she wants changed, she doubles down and insists upon everything being changed. The girl ends up disappearing, while the story’s end posits several theories as to what’s happened to her.

Today’s focus, the title story, “The Trojan War Museum,” is a description of the eight or nine facilities that have, in history and in the future, been called “The Trojan War Museum.” The first was the actual battleground of the Trojan War, all its primary relics: the bones and the weapons. The second museum was created by the gods—Zeus, Apollo, and Athena-types—Greek deities who factor heavily in all of the museums, act as real-life characters throughout Bucak’s story. This museum, like many of its followers, lasts a brief time, has a middling level of success as a museum, and then is gone.

Trojan War Museums pop up throughout history, some started by humans, others by the gods. Sometimes the museums have actual artifacts—things we’d find in any museum—and sometimes the museum create facsimiles to make their museum popular: the arrow that pierced Achilles’ heal; the sword Achilles used to slay Hector; the Trojan horse itself. These versions seem to enjoy more of a life, as after all, that’s what people would want to see: The relics from the story, even if they’re not real.

The present day comes and goes, as some of the later museums are built into the twenty-first century, these later versions by the aforementioned Greek gods. It seems as if they are alive and well—they are immortal, after all—and their interests have moved beyond worship to enterprising business opportunities. When you think about it, who’s likely to have the actual artifacts from the fall of Troy: Some curator living in America, centuries later, or Athena, whose temple was destroyed by the Greeks?

I’ll note that this story also has another line runing through it, another section in italics. This one seems more like a detail evoking of a muse, one that goes into some pretty serious evoking.

Overall, I like this story, how it has a lot of fun with history, but at the same time, can strike a somber, serious tone: After all, this was a war, people died, ancient Turks, Bucak’s people. A lot of it is told tongue-in-cheek, satire more than tribute—I wasn’t even positive Troy existed in modern-day Turkey until I looked it up today. This has been educational, along with fulfilling and entertaining.

Ayşe Papatya Bucak (who is Turkish-American, if you hadn’t guessed) writes splendid stories. The Trojan War Museum is quite the debut, Bucak exploring her heritage through her eclectic range of tales, stories about figures both legendary and historic. It’s that balance of whimsy and lesson that makes this book so special to me, as I know there’s something behind every story, every reference, every bit I didn’t quite understand. This was a solid way to spend my evening. I highly recommend.