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.

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Maryam Keeper of stories by Alawiya Sobh

Maryam keeper of stories by Alawiya Sobh

Lebanese fiction

Original title Maryam Al-Hakaya

Translator – Nirvana Tanoukhi

Source – personal copy

Well, this is a great day for the blog it sees the 800th review and this book seems fitting all the time I have run the blog. I have run shadow juries connected to translation prizes. So for this to be the first in my new shadow EBRD prize jury is a real treat. Alawiya Sobh studied English and Arabic literature at university and has been writing since the early 1980’s and was editor of a leading woman’s magazine. This book won the sultan’s prizes in 2006 four years after it came out, her other novel was also longlisted for the Arabic Booker prize.

Before the war ended, Alawiyya did come sporadically. Somwtimes, she would be gone for days, weeks or months, but in the end she would return to knock on my door. I rarely left the flat. Often, I would only only go to the firm to collect my slary at the end of each month, since regular attendance wan not enforced. Particularly during the early years if the war when the fighting was at its worst, I spent most of my time at home in my room, unless I had arranged to meet Abbas. Ibtisam and Alawiyya, for their part, went to the fronts and disappeared for days. they wandered off like a sheep and grazed in the war meadow only to be brought back to my little stable where they regurgitated their tales.

Maryam talks of her friend and them going to,the front, I loved this image.

Maryam is a Lebanese woman, she is in Beruit.But she is just found out she is going to leave and go to live in Canada away from the war. She is worrying that the stories she has told her friend the writer Alawiya haven’t been used by her. Even thou she promised. So we see Maryam recounting the tales she had told her friend. She worries about why ALwiya hasn’t asked for more of her stories.So we see Maryam struggle as the war raged on but also times before a place that is now lost.Then we also see her parents yes her mother is a bit of a character there is some great interaction between and the father who the mother has just in the place she wants him. Like the tales of her various aunts like the slow one. Then we see the wider picture of the city and the conflict, which for me at the time was bewildering and complexed.

My sister prepared to carry out Mother’s orders and stood guard over the brad for fear of puinishment,But my older brother Ahmad slipped by her, stole some loaves and escaped down the valley to eat them there. My sister ran after him, but he was faster and soon disappeared from her sight. He devoured the loaves in the orchard while, bacj at the house, fear devoured my sister. When Mother returned and heard about my brother’s “big Belly”, she broke into a rage and ran after my sister to thrash her.

The mother was feared and made the daughters hold the line .

This book has an interesting take on Maryam narrating, but a writer called Alawiya in their lives that had promised to tell the story. There is a feeling is this Maryam or is Alawiya being Maryam? It is good to see a female voice on the Lebanon war, I have read a couple of books from the male perspective. It was great to see the bonds between mothers daughters and friends keep their spirits up in the darkest times. A family saga set during a dark time shows how the family pulls us through the darkest times and also the humour we find within families even in the dark days of the war there is still humour here. I wouldn’t have read this without it being on the EBRD literature prize shortlist so I am pleased it was on the list.

A new prize a new shadow EBRD translation prize

€20k EBRD Literature Prize reveals inaugural shortlist

I have decide that time was right to leave the shadow Man Booker prize after seven years I feel I was ready to step back. I have decide with an Old friend Lisa of ANzlitlovers to do a small shadow jury of us two for the New EBRD prze the prize from the European bank of reconstruction and devolpment is for fiction translated to English from the countries that EBRD work with that is 40 countries and a wide range of lit this has given an interesting shortlist of Six book.I feel for me to support this new prize is the way to go.  As the chair the lovely Rosie Goldsmith said

 Already I can predict this prize is here to stay. It’s different and it’s important. Our entries came from Armenia to Albania, the Baltics to the Balkans and beyond. This prize has broadened my mind and also my definition of the novel. We’ve read a Turkish feminist road novel, a love story from Beirut, a memoir from Morocco, a black comedy from Albania and a rollicking Russian satire – just a few of our entries, from established writers to those who deserve to be: the standard of storytelling and of translation is excellent and our winners will blow you away.”

have reviewed three of the books on the list already. 

The six shortlisted titles are All the World’s a Stage by Boris Akunin (translated by Andrew Bromfield from Russian, Weidenfeld & Nicolson)Belladonna by Daša Drndic (translated by Celia Hawkesworth from Croatian, Maclehose/ Quercus), The Traitor’s Niche by Ismail Kadare (translated by John Hodgson from Albanian, Penguin), The Red-Haired Woman by Orhan Pamuk (translated by Ekin Oklap from Turkey, Faber & Faber), Istanbul Istanbul by Burhan Sönmez (translated by Ümit Hussein from Turkish, Telegram Books), and Maryam: Keeper of Stories by Alawiya Sobh (translated by Nirvana Tanoukhi from Arabic, Seagull Books).

Lisa has also just reviewed The Traitors  Niche  and is reading the Pamuk that is also available on bbc in an abridged version from the reading europe programme

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