Istanbul Istanbul by Burhan Sönmez



Istanbul Istanbul by Burhan Sönmez

Turkish fiction

Original title – İstanbul İstanbul

Translator – Umit Hussein

Source – personnel copy

I reach the second book from the three of the EBRD shortlist I have to read and this title was the one I knew very little around. Burhan is a prize-winning Turkish writer. He grew up speaking both Turkish and Kurdish. He moved to Istanbul to become a lawyer, he then took up writing first poetry, where he won two national poetry prizes. Then he turned his hand to writing novels this is his third novel his books have been translated into twenty languages. He now teaches literature.

It was cold in our cell. While I was telling the Doctor my story, Kamo the Barber lay curled on the bare concrete floor. We had no covers, we warned ourselves by huddling together, like puppies. Because time had stood still for several day we had no idea if it was day or night. We knew what pain was, every day we relived the horror that clamped our hearts as we were led away to be tortured.

Demirtay in the opening story talking about life in the cell for them.

This book is set just after the military coup in the prison in Istanbul. We are hearing the tales of four prisoners Demirtay the student, the doctor, Kamo the barber and Uncle Kuheylan. The four are being held and tortured.In between the guards taking them the four keep their spirits alive by telling stories from their lives.To spring their minds from outside there windowless cell  As they do they bring the city above them to life. From a meeting with one of those huge white dogs that grew up around this part of the world. A princess that has escaped from the Harem that has snuck on a boat and hidden in a lifeboat.But as one of them is told the stories have to reveal as little about themselves as the cell may be bugged so what we get is slightly fantastic stories. Thjis is interspersed with graphic images of torture particularly later on in the book a scene when a hammer is hit into a wrist is very hard hitting.

“A girl boarded a large ship in the port of Istanbul with great stealth, climbed up the steps, and hid in a large lifeboat. She wrapped herself in a sail and strained her ears to listen to any sound coming from outside.Once the ship had set sail she heaved a sigh of relief. Time aboard passed between sleep and wakefulness. She listened to the crew singingWhen the ship anchored in a port, she waited until evrything had turned quiet and darkness had fallen. She descended the steps unseen by anyone, and started running. She was heading towards a new world

A woman escapes the world of istanbul by a ship but what is here fate ?


This is an interesting book that brings the streets of Istanbul to life through the eyes of four men on the edge. There is a harder edge to this than Pamuk’s Istanbul this is the city we don’t see all the time the one of secret prisons and those trying to keep their minds open like the descriptions in Calvino’s Invisible cities the city comes to life. The book uses the four men in the cell as a framing device for the tales they tell each other this is like the Decameron or the Canterbury tales where we see a group using tales to illustrate their lives or values. These tales are in place love stories a little raunchy at times. But also the real side of life in a huge city at times. Tales that show how minds can transcend walls and iron doors that hold these four men in the dark there broken bodies and their minds not yet broken. This is what I had hope the books from the EBRD would be like a prize like this is why I read translated books to discover gems.


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Lisa Hill
    Mar 05, 2018 @ 14:50:24

    Phew, I finished reading this book tonight. A grim experience, but I’m still glad I read it. My review is here:


  2. Trackback: That was the month that was February 2018 | Winstonsdad's Blog

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