What a small gem of a book! This is just a short book that puts together a bunch of historical documents as well as articles, an interview, even a des...moreWhat a small gem of a book! This is just a short book that puts together a bunch of historical documents as well as articles, an interview, even a destan (epic) written about one of the most famous "crazy" people who lived in Istanbul under the Ottoman Empire (or right at the end of the Empire and the beginning of the Turkish Republic). At the time, Pazarola Hasan Bey was a sought-after personality by the merchants and retailers of the streets of Istanbul, who valued his blessing (always went something like "Pazarola Head [insert profession]") as a good luck charm. It seems that Pazarola Hazan Bey (pazar is bazaar, so the word may mean something like "may you make good bazaar/sale") was looked after well by his step-mother (his aunt, to whom his father married after his own mother died, most likely due to complications of his birth, for he had a large head, possibly due to megalencephaly), so he was not dirty or homeless like some other notorious street personalities. He also had a mild manner and a generous disposition. Karakisla collects many articles and photos (for Pazarola Hasan Bey was also a favorite for the foreign press at the time!) about him in this short book, as he presents a slice of life from the bustling streets of Istanbul.(less)
Mehmet Bilal's Ucuncu Teki Sahis (Third Person Singular, which, in Turkish, is genderless, meaning, instead of he/she/it, there is only one word, "o,"...moreMehmet Bilal's Ucuncu Teki Sahis (Third Person Singular, which, in Turkish, is genderless, meaning, instead of he/she/it, there is only one word, "o," for the third person singular) is an intimate and complex look at modern gay male culture in Istanbul. Published in 2003, the book chronicles the fictional lives of a group of friends, all of whom were born to the male gender, and who express a range of gender identities. There is one woman in the group, who is not really a part we hear much about. This may be because the main character is a gay man, and the main storyline is his troubled relationship with another gay man.
At the very beginning, the language of the book is very plain, almost pedantic. There are moments of brilliance, and insightful passages about what it means to be a man in Turkey, how the gay culture differs from the oppressive straight culture, and the many lives gay men have to live to survive, but these are few and far between. Luckily, as the story evolves, the writing seems to get better, where less is told, and more is shown, which helps flesh out the characters into real human beings.
Ultimately, the book is not only about the gay subculture in the early 2000s in Istanbul, but about alienation, the meaning of friendship for the new generations, the role of drugs and pharmaceuticals in the emotional lives of people, and the very question of masculinity in the context of queerdom and Turkish culture. The ever present suffering of transexuals and transvestites as marginalized individuals within the already oppressed gay community rings true. The criminal elements that haunt the community, especially for those who have a hard time existing in their preferred gender identity, is perhaps another character all to itself throughout the novel. (Sodomy is not illegal in Turkey, unlike some states in the USA. Sex with a minor is, though the book deals mostly with men in their 30s. Conning, drug dealing, and drug use are the main crimes depicted in the novel. )
All in all, Ucuncu Tekil Sahis is a very interesting read, and stands as an important modern book about gay identity, especially gay male identity, with all its problems and redeeming qualities. The overall mood of the book parallels the mood of the main character, who has to pick up the pieces of his life after a damaging relationship with his lover. There isn't too much happiness in the book, but there is certainly hope.(less)
Lately I have been trying to read more in Turkish. It has brought up some old frustrations. Long sentences, too many metaphors, unnecessary attempts a...moreLately I have been trying to read more in Turkish. It has brought up some old frustrations. Long sentences, too many metaphors, unnecessary attempts at imagery, and the excessive use of ellipses... (Ha!) It is difficult to find (for me, at least) emotionally mature Turkish literature that is not melodramatic, yet enables me to feel something. The two extremes are easy to find, if I can manage the long sentences (I think my Turkish is regressing, so the 64-word-on-average sentences are killing me! But then again, I was always like this, and I find this problematic in all writing, not just Turkish. And no, I do not suffer from attention deficit.)
Mustafa Kutlu manages to be whimsical and profound, not trying too much to do either, and succeeding to do them just right. There are many little stories tucked away in the mere 100 something pages of Uzun Hikaye (Long Story, as in "Oh, it's a long story.") The narrator is the son of a jack-of-all-trades guy, and together they travel from small town to small town (a particular type of small town, a kasaba, strictly defined in Turkey as larger than a village and smaller than a city, with 2,000 to 20,000 residents today, but back then, much smaller) leaving whenever the father stands up to some injustice and is duly exiled or threatened by worse. Uzun Hikaye is a story of childhood, growing up, first love, and a touching relationship between a son and father, but it is, as a whole, the story of every small town or village, every boy growing up, falling in love, and learning to earn a living. It is also the story of the perpetual immigrant, forced to move from town to town in search of work and opportunity that is not stifled by politics and identity issues.
Some things are very nostalgic for those who know this kind of life, but even for me, the big city person that I am. Kids climbing trees to collect fruit (didn't I get a good thrashing from my mom when I climbed the fig tree, notorious for tricking children with its seemingly sturdy, thick branches, only to give in with a hollow crack when you least expect it? and the walnut tree that gave us delicious young walnuts, painting our hands like henna with the green husk of its fruit), kids making bow and arrows from wispy plants (we all wanted to be Indians, because they got the bows and arrows, while cowboys just pretended to have guns in their hands; I suppose in America boys would have plastic guns, but we didn't have that many of those to go around), boys getting in line to watch girls walk by... It is funny how my memories of Istanbul in the late 80s and early 90s is full of this stuff, just give different professions to the adults, make the fruit raggedy and full of worms because the trees grew in apartment building backyards with nobody paying attention to them, the children less innocent with the advent of MTV and Freddy Kruger (how do I even remember this stuff?), and cars... many, many cars.
I find it hilarious that father and son opened a bookstore with the hopes of turning it into a cultural center where the whole town would come to read great books and discuss them, and perhaps more (discuss politics, for example). I suppose not much has changed; Turks still don't read much. (A very small portion of the population reads a lot and the rest, nothing.)
Someone described Kutlu's writing saying that it was "like water," and I agree. There is an ease in his language, a confidence in the greater meaning of words that does not distract from their immediate utility.
My favorite quote: "Emret, emret findik kabuguna gireyim." ("Tell/order me, and I will fit myself into a hazelnut shell.") There is a lot of Turk in that one sentence, from the nut that defines a big part of Anatolia's identity (Turkey is the major exporter of hazelnuts in the world, though fresh hazelnuts is what I highly recommend) to the devotion to the lover, begging her to ask anything of him, anything, and he will do it, no matter how impossible (drama, melodrama, passion... things that we think of as Mediterranean, but actually are even stronger themes in the rest of Anatolia.)
I am not sure if the novella is translated (I attempted to look for English and German versions, but no luck.) There is a film, which is supposed to be different, but good.
Recommended for those who like the films of Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Vizontele (a Turkish film), Hukkle (a Hungarian film), and Waking Ned Devine. (less)
Findikli's short stories are vibrant with diversity and shaded with nostalgia. Progressing from 1863 to 1935, the lives of Jews, Georgians, Italians,...moreFindikli's short stories are vibrant with diversity and shaded with nostalgia. Progressing from 1863 to 1935, the lives of Jews, Georgians, Italians, Turks, and many more, who see the fall of the Sultan and the beginnings of the Republic. Perhaps more upbeat than Los Sokagin Kadinlari, this collection is as diverse and curious as Findikli's other short story collections. Many of the stories involve people whose lives are deeply affected by the political events in the Empire/Republic. While some characters seek to fulfill life-long dreams, some try to start a new life, and others yet try to make peace with their past. Although the political events of the day play a prominent role int he stories, ultimately, the events are deeply private and personal.(less)
The first collection of stories in this double feature is bleak, as the name suggests. The women who tell their stories all live in a dark, bleak stre...moreThe first collection of stories in this double feature is bleak, as the name suggests. The women who tell their stories all live in a dark, bleak street that is overwhelmed with the smell of mildew. They all wish to leave this place, but somehow have not been able to. Some have hopes of leaving soon, some have given up hope. But all tell their story in a melancholic way that ends each sentence with a .. (and not the usual ...)
The second collection of stories chronicled everyday lives of the women and men of Ankara from before the beginning of the was of independence to well after. As the rising capital of the new resistance, the stories reflect the changing moods, the political tensions, but always through the lens of small lives, ordinary worries, and simple hopes. Again, mostly women voice their troubles in this collection.
Findikli captures the Turkish woman at the end of the Ottoman times well with her stories. The anxieties of changing times, the agonies of losing sons, brothers, husbands, father to the wars, the everyday struggles of making a living, feeding mouths, marrying daughters off... Somehow, the particularly Turkish melodrama does not allow the stories to reach a universal dimension; they remain regional, particular, and melodramatic.
Nevertheless, Findikli accomplishes to give voice to the women of the new born republic and their descendants in a way that is personal, detailed, and historic all at the same time. Perhaps most striking is the diversity of her female characters, hailing from various Christian and Muslim faiths, different socio-economic backgrounds, and ethnicities. Her focus remains on the working woman, which seems rather feminist, but perhaps that is one of the main points: the woman was and has always been a bread earner, and more so during wartime than any other time.(less)
Selim Ileri's main character, writer Cemil Sevket Bey, is not exactly based on Nahid Sirri Orik, but more on the impressions and information Selim Ile...moreSelim Ileri's main character, writer Cemil Sevket Bey, is not exactly based on Nahid Sirri Orik, but more on the impressions and information Selim Ileri was able to find from Orik's works. Orik was, indeed, alive and writing during the time the Ottoman Empire fell, the new Turks rose to power, defeating the invading forces, and Cumhuriyet, the Republic, was formed. Orik also traveled around Anatolia and left for Europe to return after the republic formed. And Orik, like Cemil Sevket, was gay and effeminate.
The narrator is a writer who first meets Cemil Sevket in his childhood. Sevket is already an aging, forgotten writer; an old gay man who joins the ladies of the neighborhood in their tea time get-togethers. The interesting thing about the narration is most of it has to be done, since the narrator is often summarizing Cemil Sevket's works and life, in the "story" tense in Turkish. The way Ileri does this is pretty interesting, makes for a rough read in the beginning, but eventually one gets used to it. In general, the language Ileri uses is complex and textured.
Cemil Sevket is at first an unlikable character, towards the middle, as we learn more about his personal life, he becomes a more likable person, and at the end, which corresponds to the very end of Cemil Sevket's life, he becomes a character that demands our pity. All in all, Ileri's character is extremely well-developed among the blurry shadows of Ottoman and early Turkish Republic history. (less)
Veda is a successful novel, a family saga, a historic moment analyzed through the lens of personal tragedies and triumphs. Nestled at ridge defining t...moreVeda is a successful novel, a family saga, a historic moment analyzed through the lens of personal tragedies and triumphs. Nestled at ridge defining the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the rise of the Turkish Republic, the novel follows a web of characters around the inhabitants of an old Istanbul house. The family of the finance minister of the falling Ottoman Empire, Ahmet Res(h)at, live through some turbulent and rough times as the city is under siege, the Muslims under the abusive control of ex-Ottoman minorities as well as foreigners. Ahmet Reshat Bey walks a thin line between his loyalty to the sultan and helping the emerging resistance against the British-lead foreign forces, birthed in Anatolia under the leadership of the charismatic general, Mustafa Kemal. We all know how the story ends, in a way. But what Kulin manages so deftly is to tell us the story of the every day life of people whose lives are invariably affected by the war and siege, but have to eat, sleep, give birth, fall in love, struggle for domestic authority, grow up to become teenagers and wives... She weaves in the emerging modernization of gender roles (an early version of feminism,) the ever-important power dynamics between a woman and her mother-in-law, the relationship between the elite and the serving class along with a sweeping love story that is sure to make some cry for a while.
All in all, the plot and character development, the language flow, the historic perspective are very well executed. Perhaps my only problem with the book is that some events seem a bit too contrived, and some a bit too emotional. But these are Turks, who are known to be emotional, and the times are rough, so nothing seems out of place.(less)
Having lived in many countries and cities, having been accused of representing too much or too little her culture, her background, her language, Elif...moreHaving lived in many countries and cities, having been accused of representing too much or too little her culture, her background, her language, Elif Safak has a lot to say about the Turk who lives abroad, the woman without a head scarf who is stopped going into a mosque to pray in Turkey [and the woman who gets dirty looks for wearing a head scarf in the US], and my favorite, the writer who has to, somehow, show those foreigners how good/modern/liberal/cultured/great Turks are (Turkey is). Needless to say, I identify very well with Elif Safak and her frustrations with Turks in Turkey as well as outside of Turkey really ring true with mine. My favorite parts are the criticism she brings to the Turks who live outside or Turkey, who are just so busy that they cannot really read many books, but when they do, did she really have to use all those Ottoman words that are hard to understand?! This cracks me up every time... Especially... Well, I'll tell you about a conversation I witnessed at an Ivy-League school. I was, despite my efforts of trying to keep anonymous to all the Turks on campus, at a table with some professors and their wives (first and last time.) They were discussing how Elif Safak was to visit the campus, most likely. Apparently they were all on a first name basis with her. (some of these people are very well-known names in their fields, and certainly "esteemed scholars") One of the wives turned to me and said in Turkish, "I mean, I love Elif, she's a great person, but I cannot read her. No no, I cannot. With all those Ottoman words. Anyway, I don't have much time to read." I smiled and thought of having read Mahrem (the Gaze) with the dictionary, having had to look up some words, for in Turkey I belong to one of many generations deprived of the knowledge of Ottoman Turkish. Though not an easy read for me In Turkish, Mahrem is my favorite of Safak's works. But why read, if it is hard work, right? Right... The conversation then turned to Elif's "questionable" political battles in Turkey, that one of the esteemed profs had tried to convince her to "Just let it go." And the whole time I wondered if his tone was so patronizing when he actually spoke with the writer, too. When I read Med-Cezir, I realized Safak had heard these people say these things, and not just them, but many others. Those who didn't have time to read a book, but thought it their place to criticize Safak's choice of words, those who, with fatherly love and a sense of academic superiority, tried to convince her to keep out of trouble, and the list goes on and on. And in Med-Cezir, having heard all, Safak fights back. From women's rights to religious liberty to the role of the writer, Safak talks about the woes of, well, being Elif Safak.(less)