The latest addition to my website is Elif Shafak‘s Baba ve Piç (The Bastard of Istanbul). This book tells the story of two families, one a Turkish family living in Istanbul and the other an Armenian family, living in the US, with most of their ancestors having been killed in the Armenian Genocide. Both families are dominated by women. Indeed, the Turkish one consists of four sisters, only one of whom, the youngest, has a child, a daughter, Aysa. We do not learn who her father is till the end of the book. The sisters had one brother, Mustafa, who emigrated to the United States and never returned. He married a divorced woman, Rose. Her ex-husband, who never remarried, is part of the Armenian family and their daughter Armanoush/Amy is very much involved in discussions of things Armenian, particularly the Genocide. Indeed, unbeknown to her family, she heads off to Istanbul, to try and track down her roots, staying with Aysa’s family. We learn that the Turks are almost completely ignorant of the Armenian Genocide, something the Armenians discuss all the time. Aysa and Amy, the younger generation, try to bring the two sides together and this issue is the key theme of the book. Indeed, Shafak was prosecuted for insulting Turkishness in this book because of her relatively sympathetic view of the Genocide.
The latest addition to my website is Hakan Günday‘s Az (The Few). This is a very violent and grim book but also a very original one. It tells the story of two people called Derdâ, one male and one female. We start with the female one, who is married off to a violent man, when she is only aged eleven and immediately the couple go to London, where she is kept locked in a flat for five years. She escapes with the help of man who is into masochism – he loves being beaten by a woman in a chador – and gets involved in the drug trade (she becomes a heroin junkie) and porn films and ends up graduating from Edinburgh University. The male Derdâ loses his mother, aged eleven (his father is in prison) and struggles to survie, finally getting a job with a pirate publisher, where he learns to read but starts with Oğuz Atay‘s Tutunamayanlar (The Disconnected), a very difficult post-modern novel. He becomes obsessed with Atay and violence breaks out in this part of the book as much as in the first part. Both parts do, finally, connect. It is grim, it is violent but it is original and very clever.
The latest addition to my website is Oya Baydar‘s Kayıp Söz (The Lost Word). This is a superb novel about a famous Turkish writer, Ömer Eren, who has lost his word, i.e. has writer’s block. We follow his attempt to deal with this, when, at Ankara bus station, he meets a Kurdish couple, The wife has been accidentality shot by carousing soldiers and he not only helps them but later heads out to the Kurdish part of the country to find out what is really going on in that part of the world. Meanwhile, his wife, a successful scientist, is trying to reconnect with their son, Deniz, who has fled Turkey to live on a remote island off the coast of Norway. On a visit to Turkey his Norwegian wife is killed by a suicide bomber and he has retreated even more into himself, living only for their young son. The whole issue of responsibility and how best to live one’s life, as well as the issue of violence to deal with political problems are just two of the many ideas Baydar confronts in this book and she tells a superb story as well.
The latest addition to my website is Orhan Kemal‘s Cemile (Gemilé). This is a fairly realist tale about a cotton factory. A small group within the cotton factory are trying to sabotage the work of an Italian engineer, to get rid of him. At the same time, they are planning to kidnap a young Bosnian woman, whose family have immigrated to the area, as she refuses to marry one of their number and would prefer to marry a young clerk. Her father and his friend used to be guerrillas in Serbia, fighting the Christians, while the rich factory owner hired and supports the Italian engineer. Both plots blow up at around the same time. Orhan Kemal had a considerable reputation in Turkey but has never really become known in the English-speaking world.
The latest addition to my website is Aslı Erdoğan‘s Kırmızı Pelerinli Kent (The City in Crimson Cloak). This novel is set entirely in Rio de Janeiro and tells the story of a Turkish woman, Özgur, who has been living there for two years. She hates the city, the squalor, the violence, the drugs, the heat and humidity. She is broke, depressed and lonely. However, she is determined to stay there till she has, as she says, written the city. She is writing a novel called The City in Crimson Cloak, a quasi-autobiographical novel about a woman called Ö, whose story is similar to hers, but somewhat enhanced. We follow her on day in which she wanders round the city, seeing its horrors and bemoaning her fate. The day does not end well.
The latest addition to my website is İhsan Oktay Anar‘s Puslu Kıtalar Atlası [The Atlas of Misty Continents]. This a wonderfully inventive, quasi-historical, very funny novel set in late seventeenth century Istanbul. It is full of colourful characters: a man who creates an atlas by imagining the places, a cuddly but very real bear, a book owned by Lawrence of Arabia, a siege of a Bulgarian town, a crack thief who disguises himself as a woman to get into other people’s houses and ends up as King of the Beggars, known as Pork Eater, and, in particular, a rich and powerful man, head of the Turkish secret service, who has a mirror that predicts an apocalypse in Istanbul. All are linked by Bünyamin, son of the man who created the atlas, who gets hold of a special black coin, seeks to avenge his father and gets caught up in every conspiracy going at that time. Sadly, it has been translated into French, German and Korean but not English.
The latest addition to my website is Bilge Karasu‘s Gece (Night), a blistering post-modern, Kafkaesque parable which could be Turkey but also could be any other police state. There are essentially three things going on. The first is the night workers, symbolically representing the secret police, who come out at night and randomly arrest, torture and kill the citizens. The second concerns a man known only as N who is followed and then set up by three secret police agents (two of whom knew him as a child). Finally, the author intervenes, telling us what she is doing but also telling us that she and the others are unreliable narrators, all of which adds to the Kafkaesque dystopian effect. It is grim, it is post-modern but it certainly conveys the horrors of contemporary Turkey.
The latest addition to my website is Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar‘s Saatleri Ayarlama Enstitüsü (The Time Regulation Institute). As part of his reforms, Kemal Atatürk decreed that every town should have a clock so people would know the precise time. This book satirises this. We follow the life of Hayri Irdal in some detail. He is a man who has had a difficult romantic, financial and professional life with a few ups and a lot more downs. However, he has taken an interest in timepieces and when he meets Halit Ayarcı, the two join forces to create the the Time Regulation Institute. Its function is to regulate timne in Turkey. People can check their timepieces at various convenient places and can be fined for having a timepiece which is not accurate. Tanpınar satirises the whole enterprise, from its excessive staff to Hayri Irdal’s biography of the great Ahmet the Timely, their inspiration and patron saint, who did not, in fact, exist. Tanpınar’s satirical method is to treat it all with deadly seriousness, even while satirising the whole enterprise. At times, particularly with Hayri Irdal’s early life, it drags a bit but is an excellent satire.
The latest addition to my website is Nedim Gürsel‘s Boğazkesen, Fatih’in Romanı (The Conqueror). Gürsel is one of the foremost contemporary writers but this is only one of two of his books translated into English. The eponymous conqueror is Sultan Mehmed II who, among many other places, conquered Constantinople. Gürsel tells two stories: the story of Mehmed and his conquest of Constantinople, but also the story of a contemporary Turkish novelist, Fatih Haznedar, who is writing this novel, while staying in a riverside house opposite Mehmed’s fort of Boğazkesen, the Turkish title of this novel. We follow Fatih’s struggle with the novel, culminating in the 1980 coup, while learning about what drove Mehmed to conquer Constantinople, aged only twenty-one. Gürsel tells a first-class tale and this novel should be better known in English.
The latest addition to my website is Ahmet Altan‘s Son Oyun (Endgame). Altan and his brother are both currently serving a lifetime prison sentence because of their alleged involvement in the 2016 coup in Turkey. This novel is about an unnamed novelist who goes to an idyllic seaside resort to write his novel and finds that it is in fact in the middle of a serious gang war. He witnesses two murders and, as we learn right at the beginning of the book, has himself shot someone (though we do not know who or why till the end of the book). In the meantime, dodging the bullets, he manages to have affairs with three women, including the women of the town’s two most powerful and most dangerous men. It is naturally all going to end badly and does.