Cover Image: The Four Humors

The Four Humors

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A 20-year old Turkish-American woman grieving the death of her father spends the summer in Istanbul (vividly captured), with her American boyfriend in tow, to take care of her ailing grandmother. She becomes fixated on ancient medicine in the course of trying to cure her chronic headaches. 

The book spends quite a bit of time unraveling her family's old secrets from multiple perspectives, which are fascinating. A very interesting read.
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𝑻𝒉𝒆𝒚’𝒓𝒆 𝒂𝒇𝒓𝒂𝒊𝒅 𝒐𝒇 𝒎𝒆, 𝒂𝒏𝒅 𝒕𝒉𝒆 𝒔𝒉𝒂𝒑𝒆 𝒎𝒚 𝒈𝒓𝒊𝒆𝒇 𝒉𝒂𝒔 𝒕𝒂𝒌𝒆𝒏.

Sibel is an American Turkish twenty-year-old who has grown up influenced by both cultures, splitting her time between the two countries. For the summer, she and her ‘blond’ American boyfriend Cooper are spending time in Turkey so that she can help care for her grandmother who has Parkinson’s and visit her Baba’s (father’s) grave. Cooper is renting a place near an eye hospital where he is working, while she stays with her grandmother’s place. They have promised to Sibel’s mother they would adhere by Turkey’s strict rules, respecting their culture. Sibel is supposed to be working at a hospital too but is plagued by headaches, ones that she is trying to diagnosis, researching the four humors. People once believed the four humors, proposed by Hippocrates, affected health and related to personality types and moods, made up of four substances (humors) black bile, yellow bile, blood and phlegm. These were said to be the basis of ancient medicine. The theory is an imbalance caused no end of disorders and illnesses, think bloodletting of bygone days. Despite the fascination with the topic, it isn’t the answer to what is causing her own headaches but what is the cause? Cure? Cooper has happily thrown himself into learning about her culture, wanting to understand more beyond what the western news airs and being accepted by her family.

Despite being there to care for her grandmother, it is she who insists Sybil go to the hospital, tending to her grandchild’s needs. She also gently prods her to visit her father’s grave, but something is holding her back. As for Cooper, the language and cultural barrier doesn’t stand in the way of her grandmother’s delight in his presence nor stop her from communicating in other ways. His own grandmother, coincidentally, had once taught at a boarding school on the Syrian border, lending him a little bit of history to explore. Sibil herself, when she is with her cousin’s friends, isn’t Turkish enough, doesn’t have a full grasp on their history and when in America her otherness is evident, people always asking where she is from. Even illness in its many forms is different culturally. Religion too is a wall, her own parents didn’t raise her Muslim, dangerous after 9/11. Where will she be buried when she is dead? How do you traverse the shifting sands of self, when made up of two cultures that conflict?

Are the headaches psychosomatic? That she should be studying for her MCAT, focused on finishing her degree isn’t lost on her. But everything is off. Cooper loves Turkey, wants to stay, what better place can you learn about medicine? But she is consumed with not wanting to remember her father, feeling pain, his disappointment in her. She is angry with Cooper, wondering how he could love her. Everything is heavy for her, more perplexing than her headaches. In the background is the politics and the divisions it causes. How the violence and instability has touched her own family members. She is filled with grief she isn’t confronting. Her body is a challenge she isn’t understanding, but she is trying. That is what the four humors is really about. Where is her soul? Are we our body? She has closed up, and all of the things we bury scream to be let out. She has been carrying a shame in her heart, and it is showing itself in her body. Her sister Alara is another worry, one she isn’t truly facing. Cooper and Sibel start to fall apart and the story takes a turn into her family’s past.

Her grandmother has secrets, a heavy shame of her own shame that shaped Sibel’s father’s life. Refika enters the tale, and I was actually wrapped up in the deception of the past. It is her time spent at Refika’s side that Sibil learns different versions of her family story while also various forms of healing through Refika’s companion, Albina. There is a lot going on in this story, but for me it wasn’t hard to keep up. Cooper has more importance as we draw to a conclusion too. What Sibil really is trying to heal isn’t physical. It’s more she wants to understand what others want, think, feel. To reach out and help them. But she has to cure herself.

I felt a disconnect toward Sibel but it felt fitting, as she is disconnected herself. It’s like the soap operas she watches with her grandmother, hiding from her studies and her guilt. It’s an interesting debut, I can’t say I have ever read a book using the four humors as a guide. I’m glad I kept with it, the novel felt more like a memoir than fiction. It ended up being quite sad in some parts. I admit to really liking Refika’s character and one thing that most people can understand, despite their geography, are the confusions of family dynamics.

Publication Date: November 9, 2021

Catapult
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I just couldn't get into this book. Something about the writing style felt disjointed and clunky. Also, the main character is a little too neurotic for my personal taste. She was all over the place. She's a very high-strung individual. In the end, this book became a chore to get through. I like reading about mental health, but this one was too exhausting and over-analytical to fully engage in.
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So beautifully written I was immediately drawn in by the beautiful writing the strong characters.The author writes, lyrically I look forward to reading more by her will be recommending.#netgalley #thefourhumors
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All countries are unique, but I’ve always found Turkey to have a compelling case to be the most unique of all. Straddling East and West geographically, culturally, religiously, ethnically, and politically. It is a county with an ancient and modern history: beautiful and ugly, loving and brutal, brilliant and foolish, mysterious and mystifying.


Mina Seckin adds to the deep trove of Turkish literature with her brilliant debut, “The Four Humors”. She tells the story of 4 generations of Kurdish/Turkish/American families striving to survive, impact, and decipher life and its meaning. 

The story starts out simply. The reader settles into a rhythm, following three/four generations of women deal with life’s quotidian challenges. It all seems simple; there will be tension, and conflict, and certainly a deeply buried secret or two will emerge. Most people will learn valuable lessons, and some won’t.  

Well…..not so fast. Seckin has something entirely different in store for her readers. It is all the above but “on steroids” driven by the enormously complex history of Turkey and its rivals, invaders, occupiers, victims, and allies. And, it’s not just a history lesson. “The Four Humors” characters do their best “Forrest Gump imitation” of finding themselves right smack in the middle of some of the most seminal events of the past century. All of this provides fertile ground for our narrator to 1) better understand everything about ancient and current bodily rhythms and cures, 2)  see the importance and centrality of attaining balance and understanding in her life so as to  3) use it to profoundly assist others. ”The Four Humors” is simply a wonderful debut that will enrich all readers in unexpected ways. 

Thank you to Catapult and NetGalley for the eARC.
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I  thought that The Four Humors started with a really strong premise — a twenty-year-old Turkish-American woman makes her annual visit to Istanbul to visit family, this year with her blond American boyfriend in tow — and as this Sibel tries to apply the ancient “humor theory” of illness to her new, chronic headaches, there was a very interesting picture beginning to develop about this young woman who straddles two worlds, feeling more at home in the land (and medicine) of her ancestors. Everything between Sibel and Cooper was interesting and relatable and served to explore the culture divide, but about halfway through, Cooper takes a back seat and the story becomes about Sibel’s family secrets, with long stretches about the history of Turkish politics and student activism, and at that point the narrative lost the human touch for me. I understand that much of this story is based on debut author Mina Seçkin’s own experiences (born in Brooklyn, sent to Istanbul every summer to stay with the grandma who would eventually develop Parkinson’s, the mysterious year-long headache that Mina suffered), and the writing at the sentence level was interesting and strong, but the whole didn’t completely gel for me.
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The Four Humors follows a young woman obsessed with ancient medicine who visits her family in Turkey and goes on a journey of self-discovery whilst uncovering secrets about her complicated family. 

I don't normally read this type of fiction but the ancient medicine part in the description made me want to give this book a chance. The four humors were used to describe different characters in the story and their personalities and their dynamics with each other, for example choleric and melancholic characters would interact in a specific way while sanguine and a phlegmatic characters would also interact in a specific way, based on their humors. This is my understanding of the story, and perhaps the four humors part was too subtle and too abstract to fully grasp its purpose and point in this story? The descriptions of Turkey were vivid and evocative and the complex family "issues" were necessary but boring for me as a reader.

I agree with other reviewers who have said this felt like a memoir because there really wasn't a central plot. 

I was expecting the ancient medicine to be more coherent in this story as that is what made me venture out of my comfort zone to read it. Maybe I was not the right reader to review this book that I am sure will connect with many readers. The author has a strong voice and I believe she has the potential to write a Turkish magical realism story in the future based off of her storytelling ability. 

2/5 stars.
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If you like Ottessa Moshfegh you will like this book. That is like, the ne plus ultra of literary compliments I could ever give.
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The Four Humors is a nonfiction family drama that reads like a personal memoir.  Sibel is a first generation Turkish immigrant who lives in NYC but visits her family in Turkey for the summer.  While staying with her grandmother, life events influence her to change the trajectory of her life and takes her on a journey of self exploration.  As she questions the path she's been on, she learns surprising revelations about her family that had been kept from her.

Okay, I'm going to be honest, a big part of this book was examining an outdated way of viewing the body, "the four humors."  I found myself glossing over and skipping these parts because I found them quite boring.  I was really engaged in the family story and loved all the drama that was happening, as well as Sibel's introspection and examination of how she felt about what was happening and her own personal self.  But I felt like the humors was much too much of the story without having a meaningful impact.  To be honest, I felt like this story was really a memoir and the author herself had drawn personal meaning from the four humors and that's why they were included in the book.  Perhaps I'm not deep enough, but it just didn't make sense to include it.

This is a debut novel and I really enjoyed it.  I used to live in Eastern Europe, not far from Turkey and I loved reading about the similarities in cultures, food and language.  There is nothing I like better than using literature to step into the shoes of someone else from another country.  This was a terribly delightful journey for me.  I also appreciated learning more about what the political climate is like in Turkey, both currently and historically.  It was interesting to view politics from the perspective of an average person.

All in all, I really recommend this book.  I liked it so much.  I was even nodding and laughing over the depiction of the "ugly American" in this story.  I enjoyed it so much, couldn't put it down, and I found the author paced her revelations well to keep you engaged in the story.  I look forward to her next novel!

Just a note - there are a couple closed door scenes in this book that were tastefully handled.

Thank you to NetGalley and Catapult, Counterpoint Press, and Soft Skull Press for the complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my unbiased opinion.
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This was such a beautifully written book and I loved it. The writing was gorgeous ans the grandmother was one of my favorite characters.
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