I'm currently rereading "The City and The City", by China Mieville. This is a New Weird crime fiction novel set in two cities/city-states (Beszel and Ul Qoma) in SE Europe which occupy the same location - 'grosstopically', in the terminology of the book - and whose inhabitants are culturally conditioned to ignore everything that is not in their own city for fear of invoking a possibly supernatural force called Breach (about which we learn a little more later in the book).
My question is whether we can work out from the book where these cities are. On first reading I think I assumed that the location was deliberately inconsistent or ambiguous, but I'm noticing a number of potentially informative details. For example:
- In chapter 1 it is mentioned that Beszel is either on the coast or very close.
- At the start of Chapter 7 it is mentioned that you can fly direct to Beszel airport from Skopje, Budapest and Athens
- at the end of Chapter 3 it is mentioned that Mikyael Khurusch occasionally drives his van to Varna (Bulgaria), Bucharest (Romania) and Turkey.
- At one point I think they mention that a railway goes out of the north of the cities and through a mountain pass, but I can't find the reference.
There are a number of linguistic and cultural details that probably count as clues to someone more familiar with the region than me.
Using this and any other details (I will edit more in if I spot any), can we work out where the Cities are? The closest I can get is either between Bulgaria and Romania on the Black Sea coast, or between Bulgaria and Turkey on the Black Sea coast.
@Daniel-Roseman's comment reminded me there are other hints that Ul Qoma is formerly part of the Ottoman Empire and has parallels to Turkey, such as:
- the alphabet; Besz is written left-right using 34 characters, Illitan (the language of Ul Qoma) is written in Latin but was written in something inbetween Arabic and Sanskrit until reforms in the early C20th (and the book explicitly mentions that this was in 1923, shortly before Ataturk's similar reforms in 1928).
- the dress; formal Ul Qoman dress for men includes collarless shorts and dark lapel-less jackets, although for women it is a 'spiral semi-wrap' which I don't remember coming across in Turkey.
I believe the Besz protagonist also mentions something about the architecture which struck me as vaguely Ottoman, but I can't find the quote. It's clearly supposed to give the impression of inheriting substantial cultural aspects from the Ottoman Empire but that could still place it almost anywhere in SE Europe.
I also know almost nothing about present-day Ottoman influences on Bulgaria, Romania, etc, so although these would all be consistent with a location on the Turkish-Bulgarian border I don't know to what extent they make other locations less likely. Also, the fact that Beszel does not display these influences could suggest a location closer to the fringes of the former Ottoman Empire.