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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The Red-haired Woman by Orhan Pamuk

 

The red-haired Woman by Orhan Pamuk

Turkish fiction

Original title –  Kırmızı saçh kadın

Translator Ekin Oklap

Source – Library copy

Another from the list of books I missed last year and another I feel may be on the man booker prize. I love Orhan Pamuk he is one of those Nobel winners that write good books every time not knock out of the park books. I have enjoyed all the books by him I have read and have so far reviewed three of his books. It was nice this book was shorter than his recent books which have both been over 500 pages long.

I had wanted to be a writer. But after the events I am about to describe, I studied engineering, geologyand became a building contractor. Even so, readers shouldn’t conclude from my telling the story now that it is over, that I’ve put it all behind me. The more I remember , the deeper I fall into it. Perhap you, too, will follow, lured by the enigma of father and sons

The opening lines set Cems past and present out and what is still haunting him even today.

This is the story of two men digging a well. Their relationship is almost a father and son one as the story unfolds. They are digging a well on the edge of Istanbul in the traditional technique. Mahmut the master well builder is using his age-old knowledge to tell his apprentice. Cem the apprentice is a man who has grown up with an absent father so the regular stories and talks Mahmut and Him have as the work down the ground as the work the ground looking for water to help supply the factory.Then one day the woman of the title appears the red-haired woman a member of a travelling company captures his eye.But also leads to an incident with his master.Then we meet him years later with his own wife and son. He is riddled with guilt for the past.Although he is a successful engineer but not the writer he had dreamed of being. He has an incident with his own son. Then we have the last section of the novel, is  going over the first section from the eyes of the red-haired woman.

As the horse and I reached the open doorway, two more figures emerged: first, a man, maybe five or six years older than I was, and then a tall, red-haired woman who might have been his elder sister.There was something unusual, and very alluring, about this woman. Maybe the lady in jeans was the mother of this red-haired woman and her little brother.

His first sighting of the red-haired woman one that lingers in his mind over the years.

This is a retelling of the old Oedipus Rex story of a son killing a father and the reverse a father causing the sons death. Is a story of how we talk Cem struggles to talk to his own real father a man more caught up in his Dissident movement, so his adopt father Mahmut becomes a father figure as they do the hard work working the well but one moment cause an accident that he blames himself for the rest of his life. In the present, he has another incident with his own son life. Then we have the red-haired woman as a sort of temptress that cause problems from the moment she meets Cem and causes him problems for his life. Less complex than his recent books but still full of thew twist and turns you expect from Pamuk and of course the shadow of Istanbul is always in his stories.

Two green otters by Buket Uzuner

Two Green Otters

Two green otters by Buket Uzuner

Turkish fiction

Original title – İki Yeşil Susamuru, Anneleri, Babaları, Sevgilileri ve Diğerleri

Translator – Alexander Dawe

Source – review copy

It wasn’t so long ago when there wasn’t many Turkish novels available outside those by Orhan Pamuk was small , but this last couple of years a few more writers have appeared and a number of strong female voices from Turkey Buket Uzuner I would count in that group like Birgul Oguz and Ciler Ilhan that I have reviewed in recent years shining a light on the female experience of modern Turkish life . Buket studied biology and environmental studies before becoming a writer.

That year a lot of my friends parents got divorced, and we picked on each other in a way that only children can do . We’d say , “Yours aren’t divorced yet ? That’s so uncool, and then we’d laugh. These days I often run into those old friends of mine and nobody laughs about it the way we used to .

Those parents who were leaving hom at the time started up another trend : They’d move to “undiscovered” little towns and villages on the mediterranean coast. Sevin, my mom’s friend from college, was the first in our family to get divorced.Ner husband Semih, an electrical engineer, moved to Bodrum with a young actress and opened a restaurant

I connect with this passage as my own parents split and like Nilsu it was rare in this time for parents to divorce.

The book is the story of  one young womans life in the 1980’s Nilsu has lost her mother how has abandon her at maybe the most important point in her life the verge of adulthood. Her mother took off and this has left the young woman struggling to trust and vulnerable to the wider world at this point she meets the enigmatic Teo who is the leader of a green party in the Turkey . The two fall for each other but hold off on doing anything that is until Teo own mother takes her life and leads him to a downspiral with only Nilsu to help him out as the two draw closer and his political world becomes more turbulent. They try to help them get back to the calmer side of life and carry on with their lives .

“We can talk about Thoreau , Gandhi , Tolstoy and Schumacher “, he said , full of zeal, “but Lao-Tse was the grandfather of them all! Now there is Foucault , and maybe me!” around the same time Siddhartha was making waves in europe and thanks again to Ulla , Teoman got a copy- she still sends him books now and then – hut he knew how differently such a book would affect European Christians and Mediterranean Muslims.

This shows how when books get translated the power they can have over those that read them !!

This is a wonderful insight into how a young woman struggles to get by through in their own world especially in what in Turkey is a very Male oriented society add to the lix her involvement with the green movement at a time when Turkey was just getting over the last of a number of military coups that had happened during the 197o’s . A country that had decide to start looking to the west and is growing, but the green movement is the flipside of this growth. Nilsu and Teo are the new face of Turkey the fresh-faced willing to stand alone and willing to sand together finding strength together in the end as they stop each other from diving into the depths of despair .A great insight into Turkey at the time just as it is waking up to the world maybe and a great leap forward .

 

 

A strangeness in my mind by Orhan Pamuk

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Well for the 600th book to be reviewed on the blog it is fitting that it is a translated novel by a Nobel winner. I have reviewed Orhan Pamuk twice before on the blog silent house and the museum of innocence , I have also read snow , my name is read and The white castle before I started blogging, its fair to say Orhan Pamuk is one of those Nobel winners that fit into the writes good not great books I have loved every book by him I have read. This is maybe his grandest book as it tackles Four decades of Istanbul life. Writers and their cities Joyce with Dublin , Doblin in Berlin and Pamuk with Istanbul. This time he has seen the city through one man and the extended network he has.

This is the story of the life and daydreams of Mevlut Karatas, a seller of Boza and yoghurt. Born in 1957 on the western edge of Asia, in a poor village overlooking a hazy lake in central Anatolia, he came to Istanbul at the age of twelve, living there, in the capital of the world, for the rest of his life. When he was twenty-five, he returned to the province of his birth, where he eloped with a village girl.

The intro Mevlut (the del boy of Turkey) goes to town only to return for his girl.

THe main character in A strangeness in mind is Mevlut, he like many of his generation was drawn to the ever-expanding Istanbul. Like many a young man well he was twelve at the time in search of money and a new life. Of course like many broken dreams Mevlut never quite get where he wants, he is rather like a Turkish Del boy in that way he tries different jobs Selling yoghurt, guarding a car park and always drawn back to selling the Boza in the evenings as he tries to escape the world he is in.

Following months of endless debate, they decide that these letters should be based not on Mevlut’s notions about women but rather on what he knew about Rayiha in particular. Since the only aspect of Rayiha known to Mevlut was her eyes, logic dictated that they should be the focus of the letters .

Mevlut meets her and then in a chater we find out how he started writing love letters to her .

Add to this the love affair between Mevlut and Rayiha, part of the novel is formed of the love letters he sends her back to the village they come from, eventually after a few years she comes and joins him and they are married have kids but their life is tough hence the roles of second jobs Mevlut has to have to make ends meet during the book. As he struggles to fill the role of man of the house that is expected of him.As he says maybe he has a strangeness in my mind , he is a daydreamer!

Through all this feverish activity, the authorities could still send the gendarmes to a hastily built home and knock it down whenever they felt like it or found it politically expedient to do so. The keywas to finish building the house and start living in it as soon as possible. If a house had occupants, it could not be demolished without a warrant, and this could take time to obtain. As soon as they had chance anyone who claimed a plot of land on a hill would , provided they had any sense, recruit their friends and family to help them put up four walls over night then move in immediately so that the demolition crews couldn’t touch them next day.

The slums grow and are knocked down if you aren’t clever enough to claim your spot .

THen the third main character in the book is the background that is the city ever shifting from the early days when he arrives we see how the city grows but like an unruly plant has to be tend and cut back and the parts that are cut back are the parts of the city that Mevlut and his friends live in the slums. Filled with the little people who keep this huge city running and the people who live their in the background , the sellers , the guards , the cleaners the once that never get really notice. The ones that are drawn their by dreams and eventually like where they live crumbled in their dreams.

A huge novel in scope this is maybe  his most ambitious novel. As he takes an almost Dickensian look at the city he so loves and those that are on its underbelly. The inner working those we know but don’t always see the Mevlut yes he is like Del Boy dreams of that one big break but we know in our heart it will never come.I said the other day maybe writers don’t write their best books after winning the big prize. But possibly Pamuk is bucking that trend.

A strangeness in my mind by Orhan Pamuk

Turkish fiction

Translator – Ekin Oklap

 

Exiles by Çiler İlhan

Exiles by  Çiler İlhan

Turkish – short stories

 

Original title –  Sürgün

Translator –  Ayşegül Toroser Ateş

 

Source – review copy

Wear something bright and turn away
Imagine girls behaving in that way
Why don’t you pack your bags and leave?
Look here’s another bruise I didn’t see

You can’t say, it doesn’t really matter
This isn’t T.V., he isn’t William Shatner
Oh, I’ve told you before

These days, you look so pale and thin
Wave down the bus and let’s be rid of him
You’ve spent this night beside your T.V. set
Remember when you used to laugh at it, you laughed a bit

You can’t say, it doesn’t really matter
This isn’t T.V., he isn’t William Shatner
Oh, I’ve told you before

I choose a song from my youth that struck me about how tv heroes hitting women don’t make it ok .

Another book from Istros and this is another EU literature  prize winner .Çiler İlhan is a Turkish writer . She started of studying political science and then hotel management .Taking up a career in hotel business ,whilst writing in her spare time .She currently works as editor in chief for Conde nast traveller in Turkey and lives in Istanbul  .She has won prizes in Turkey for her short stories , this is her first collection to be published in english .

The three of them suddenly came into my room one night . I saw that my favourite brother , the youngest of my big brothers , had a cable in his hand ! He wrapped it around my throat before I could ask what was going on . he started tightening it .

An honour killing told from the victims point of view in My brother

One word left my mouth after reading this collection WOW .This collection of short stories , well I call them flash monologues myself as Ciler draws the world around her from the American army being in Iraq across the border and what that brings to Turkish life .Then for me the most powerful part of the book is a collection of voices around Honour killing of a sister by a brother  and the way we see this incident from all sides brings the horror to full view .There is a series of recurrent themes  like Batman being a women in Turkey and Iraqi  as the book is divide into five sections with the titles Exile a short one story section crime revenge and cry make up the three middle sections each with stories that are mirrored in the other sections here .and a final section called return with a story that mirrors the first section .

Some kind hearthad brought us a whole load of leftovers and we were full . In good spirits , I mean . Us stray dogs can’t always find something to eat . Some days we just cannot , you understand , but that day we had ; lucky us .And as we what nothing else to do , we were chillin .

Baby girl has another of the themes in the stories dogs and stray dogs .

The power in these collection is the clarity of the voice behind the stories .The stories as I say are very short but the power is in that the punch isn’t drawn out it just smacks you in the face and lets your jaw drop .I think the EU lit prize page about this book winning the prize has it when it quotes Einstein “A formula should be simple as possible and not simpler ” .I was reminded in a way of Alan Bennetts talking heads ,but these have much more impact to the reader these are the espresso of the lit world short and very strong in taste .I think yet again istros has discovered a powerful voice from a country where we have so few translated into English . More important than that a great short story writer ,I struggle with short stories but this for me is the sort of collection that works for me I love recurring themes and the subjects touched in this collection are ones I want to know more about . Have you a favourite book from Turkey ?

New blog translating Turkish literature

I happened to have seen this link to a newish blog that is translating Turkish Prose and poems to English .As I feel there is never enough in English from Turkish it’s great to see a translator putting her work Online lets hope she gets some interest and some more fiction and poetry comes to use in English .
go and visit word prism

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