Emanet Sehir (City on Loan) is the first graphic novel I have read that was written and drawn by Turks. I'd give it 4.5 stars, but due to lack of halvEmanet Sehir (City on Loan) is the first graphic novel I have read that was written and drawn by Turks. I'd give it 4.5 stars, but due to lack of halves, it gets a 5 star rating. The story is relentlessly hopeless, perhaps not surprisingly, since the main character is a lying, cheating jerk who is so unlikable, it is a bit too much at times. The drawing style of Berat Pekmezci, with its bold dark lines and extreme attention to detail bring the story to sharp focus. The essay by Cantek at the end of the book was useful for me to confirm some historical facts I was not sure about and to get a deeper insight into the creation process Cantek and Pekmezci used in writing the novel.
The story takes place in the 40s, which was an interesting time in Ankara, and the whole (rather young) nation. The historical events of the time, whether it be the anti-communist protests by the followers of the leading party (CHP) or the immigration of Jews to the newly formed Israel, play an important role in the life of the main character, S[h]ekip, who is stuck in between everything, and has very little love for anyone. He is stuck between needing money and his chronic inability to write anything he can sell to the newspapers (As Cantek explains in the essay at the back of the book, newspapers used to sell a lot more than books, so writers would take their novels to newspapers first, or even receive orders to write particular types of books, i.e., romance or books about the conquest of Istanbul by the Ottoman right around the 500th anniversary of the event). He is stuck between not caring much about communists or leftists (some of whom happen to be his best friends) and the woman he is hopelessly in love with, who is certainly left-wing. He is stuck bet ween a desire for the modern Istanbul and an inexplicable affinity to Ankara (though nobody praises Ankara in the novel). He is mostly ready to do anything to get ahead; the only thing that keeps him on he losing side of life is his utter lack of talent. Regardless, there must be something good about S[h]ekip, because some nice people care for him and take care of him in his hour of need. We're never quite sure how S[h]ekip managed to become friends with these people (the doctor, for example), but one can imagine a younger, brighter, nicer S[h]ekip (you just have to squint a bit).
I agree with previous reviews that the beginning of the novel is a bit confusing; it does not help that some of the characters look somewhat alike (something that is entirely understandable, since men of the time of a particular trade would dress and look the same). But the story develops in a way that makes it much easier to keep track of characters, as expected, so this was only a problem for the initial 10 pages or so.
All in all, Emanet Sehir is a noir with a very anti-noir-like character, a man who is not ashamed to tell the most ridiculous lies to get himself out of any bind, a man who seems devoid of any moral or ethical obligations, even to those who love him and look out for him.
Recommended for those who like women in pants, pigeons, and cats....more
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 desWhat 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....more
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,"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," 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....more
Lately I have been trying to read more in Turkish. It has brought up some old frustrations. Long sentences, too many metaphors, unnecessary attempts aLately 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. ...more
Tanpinar published this novel (translated as The Time Regulation Institute) in 1961, and the story follows the life andWhat a rollicking crazy story!
Tanpinar published this novel (translated as The Time Regulation Institute) in 1961, and the story follows the life and adventures of a Hayri Irdal, who grew up in the pre-Ataturk Istanbul and lived through the modernization of the new republic. Never at home with modern ideas imposed on him by the likes of Dr. Ramiz (who is obsessed with pscyhoanalysis, and insists on trying to cure Hayri of his maladaptation to life by trying to incite him to dream the correct dream) and Halit Ayarci (the founder of the Insitute), Hayri Irdal is an unforgettable, lovable, bumbling, and often tortured character, who is well aware of the absurdity of the situations around him, but is helpless to change them.
The book starts with Irdal's introduction to why he is compelled to write his memoir. Perhaps this part is the only thing that I did not like in the book, being a bit slow, and annoying because it kept alluding to events that are being promised to be told. Then Hayri starts with the debt his father's father left to his father, a curse which neither man was able to lift, though they tried get-rich schemes and other methods. Having wasted all their money and hopes of building a mosque to pay back their debt (and end this curse!), the only thing they have to show for their adventures in the end is an old, foreign-made grandfather clock, which Hayri's father names Mubarek (which literally means sacred or holy or blessed). Of course, Hayri's aunt (his father's sister) is rich, but she herself lives like she will take all her riches with her to the grave, until one day... And this is when the story really starts picking up. I will not give spoilers here, but needless to say that there is alchemy, ghosts, corpses that wake up on their way to the burial, extended families that enliven and stifle, many absurd cases of slander, a very large diamond, the riches of a long lost treasure, several love affairs between the living and those on the other side, and, of course, "an institute that was founded to find its own purpose." Almost every story contains boundless humor and satire, as Hayri gets squeezed between his Ottoman ways and his modern future, very much like the nation itself. The absurdity reaches a high when the Institute is finally founded simply to help people keep their watches on time. Needless to say, the whole thing is completely useless and in a humorous Kafkaesque manner spins out of control, all the while making Hayri agonize in his lack of belief for the usefulness of the organization that miraculously made him rich and famous. The rise and fall of the Institute completes the modernization of Hayri's adult life, complete with indignant bureaucracy and a fickle, fad-obsessed public.
There are some great passages in the book, some truly genius and hilarious. Perhaps my only complaint was that some parts could have been tighter, perhaps a bit more editing, especially in the beginning and the end, especially considering that the book is rather lengthy.
Recommended for those who like ghost stories, clocks, satire, and humor....more
Findikli's short stories are vibrant with diversity and shaded with nostalgia. Progressing from 1863 to 1935, the lives of Jews, Georgians, Italians,Findikli'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....more
Sabahattin Ali's Kurk Mantolu Madonna (Madonna with a Fur Coat, though a Google search will turn up the Madonna, not the imaginary painting the novelSabahattin Ali's Kurk Mantolu Madonna (Madonna with a Fur Coat, though a Google search will turn up the Madonna, not the imaginary painting the novel is named after) is a translation-worthy masterpiece of modern Turkish literature. Heavily influenced by the Russian novel greats, the book reads somewhat differently in two parts; the first part is narrated by a down and out guy who gets a desk job at a bank thanks to a friend and shares a room with a withdrawn, generally disliked older man, while the second part of the book is a memoir of the old man recounting the events of his youth spent in Germany. In the first part the narrator describes his unfortunate circumstances, his efforts to find work (very similar to Tanpinar's Saatleri Ayarlama Enstitutsu, The Time Regulation Institute, which is translated to English, in that respect), and upon meeting the old man, Raif, his musings about the nature of this human being, who seems unengaged and uninterested with life, floating from day to day without any regard to making meaningful contact with others. Soon, the narrator finds out that the one interesting thing about Raif Bey his frequent absences, during which he seems to catch a cold, which forces him to stay in bed. Through his visits to Raif's house, the narrator's curiosity about this wimpy old man is peaked. So when Raif Bey asks him to fetch a notebook he had kept years ago from his work desk drawer in order to destroy the notebook, the narrator has the opportunity to read the old man's interesting story overnight, which makes up the second part of the book. Raif's narration, and his life, is much more romantic and affected than the first part of the book. He describes a lonely childhood without any real connection to his family and without any friends, and teenage years spent unengaged. The rift between the boy and his father is wide and deep, and this seems to contribute substantially to his lack of initiative. Compounded with a delicate and introverted nature, the boy grows up to be a gloomy, brooding, lonely man drifting in life without any purpose or desire. Until, one day, he sees a self-portrait in the museum. After this point, the novel reads like a 19th century love story, romantic and innocent, yet repressed and suffocating (or perhaps that's just me!) There is potential for a very solid S&M relationship (a la Venus in Fur), which I kind of wished for as the lovers drove each other into impossible silences and ridiculous "ideas" of how love should be, blah blah blah. I wanted someone to get out the leather and yank on the leash, so to speak, or just get a room and be done with it. No worries, eventually there is one, one single night, that's right, where action finally takes place, though from the way Raif tells his story, you would never know something so monumental has happened! And we all know the consequences of such actions, and we are not shocked or surprised (unlike Raif, who is shocked and surprised 10 years later...)
As a result, the plot reads like a modern TV soap, albeit a very simple and predictable one. The characters are repressed and restrained. However, the gender queerness struck me as interesting, though I am almost certain this was not intended by Ali. More than once, Raif refers to himself or that others have described him as feminine or like a woman, and his love interest, Frau Puder, describes how she is the man of the house since the death of her father... He is very much ready to anything she pleases, anything she wants, any rules she wants to put on their relationship... She is the one who decides, and who says no, and sometimes yes.
So perhaps Kurk Mantolu Madonna recommended for the journey, the language, the melancholy. It is not for those who like interesting plot lines and twists and turns (there is, really, one twist in the plot, which one can see coming from a mile). It would be interesting to know how much of Ali's own experience in Berlin made it into the novel. (He died under suspicious circumstances during his efforts to secure safe passage out of Turkey back to Germany through illegal means (I think the official word was that he was shot by a smuggler who was supposed to smuggle hi across the borders, but this was never proven). He died at a very young age, which is a pity.)...more
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 streThe 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....more
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 IleSelim 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. ...more
Veda is a successful novel, a family saga, a historic moment analyzed through the lens of personal tragedies and triumphs. Nestled at ridge defining tVeda 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....more
Having lived in many countries and cities, having been accused of representing too much or too little her culture, her background, her language, ElifHaving 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....more