Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Turkish theme

We have received a lovely three page review of the three books by Latife Tekin - what a lot of threes. Hannah Adcock has reviewed them in the Edinburgh Review, in a round up of Turkish literature which includes many of the major authors, of which Latife Tekin is one.

Latife is a well known author in Turkey, but many in the UK have yet to discover her wonderful books which throw a window on a Turkey that the ordinary tourist can only guess at. I spent my honeymoon in Istanbul, and was so impressed with the country, the mosques, the stillness of Istanbul late at night, and the bustle of the day, that it seemed an obvious choice when it came to publishing translations. The fact that I started doing this in 1999 when Orhan Pamuk was relatively unknown was a blessing - my mother had published Berji Kristin, and next in line was Dear Shameless Death, but I was happy to then publish Elif Shafak and Maureen Freely. And I've had a great time doing so. A lot of crazy tours with all three ensued.

We've just received permission to put these lovely reviews up on this site - thank you, Hannah Adcock,and Brian McCabe, editor of the Edinburgh Review.

Et voila! (God knows what that is in Turkish - someone could let me know....)


Dear Shameless Death
Latife Tekin. Translated by Saliha Paker and Mel Kenne. Introduction by
Saliha Paker. Marion Boyars. isbn 9780714530543. £8.99

Berji Kristin: Tales from the Garbage Hills
Latife Tekin. Translated by Ruth Christie and Saliha Paker. Preface by John
Berger. Introduction by Saliha Paker. Marion Boyars. isbn 0714530115. £7.95

Swords of Ice
Latife Tekin. Translated by Saliha Paker and Mel Kenne. Marion Boyars. isbn
9780714531359. £7.99

Latife Tekin is one of Turkey’s most influential contemporary authors,
appreciated by legions of fans worldwide and distrusted by certain members
of the Turkish bureaucracy. She reputedly said, after having her microphone
turned off at a Turkish arts festival by a bullish town mayor, that ‘writers are
the consciousness of their country, their people.’
She’s obviously a determined woman with a social conscience but she’s also
an original and talented writer. Her subject-matter is the underprivileged on the
margins of Istanbul society. She manages to make these communities central to
her story, rather than depicting them as sociological case-studies or intellectual
sideshows. As John Berger writes about Berji Kristin, ‘A shanty-town becomes
the centre of the world, holding the stage and addressing the sky.’
The novels under review form a trilogy, loosely bound together by
Tekin’s attempts to find a voice to describe underprivileged migrants and
their attempts to integrate successfully into city life. Tekin started writing
Dear Shameless Death, in 1980, a few days after the military coup d’état.
She was twenty-three and wanted it to be ‘a razzle-dazzle novel, a book
full of sound and shimmering light, whichever way you looked at it.’ She
succeeded. It is expansive, full of rural superstitions, myths, fairy tales and
idiosyncratic characters. The first part, set in a small Anatolian village is
particularly fantastic, populated with djinns, a fair-haired and malevolent
witch and ‘donkey boy’, all of whom the child protagonist, Dirmit, believes
in implicitly.
Based on Tekin’s own childhood experiences, it is a fascinating mixture of
extraordinary imaginings fused with the commonplace details of village life.
The narrative gains tension when the action moves to an unidentified city,
clearly based on Istanbul. Dirmit’s family, particularly her parents, struggle
to cope with the demands of this alien place. Her mother repeatedly takes to
her death-bed as a way to ensure that the family does not fly apart. Reality
intrudes as Dirmit participates in a left-wing teachers’ protest and her father,
Huvat, is led into the thick of a violent student demonstration by a blackbearded
hoja. Dialogue is scarce, although often pithy (Dirmit’s mother
does a good line in insults), whilst Tekin develops and then drops narrative
threads with dizzying speed. The novel owes more to oral tradition than
conventional dramatic frameworks, for good reason. After Tekin announced
she was to write a book about ‘the village’, her elder brother arranged a
gathering of villagers, then migrants in Istanbul, so that they could tell their
stories and contribute to this ‘collective novel’. Dirmit provides a muchneeded
focus point. She develops from a creative, confused child to a wild,
poetic adolescent, in conflict with her family but also linked by the chains
of blood and love. Dear Shameless Death is an impressive, imaginative novel.
It is also a gift to Tekin’s family and village neighbours: a remembrance of
their lives.

Berji Kristin, the second part of the trilogy, draws on the testimony of
real-life squatters who crammed into fringe dwellings in the 1960s. Tekin
paints a fictional portrait of the community they establish on a refuse heap,
ironically named Flower Hill. They battle with authorities who demolish
their dwellings, are exploited by factory owners, get caught up in strikes
and see their makeshift homes being colonised by other neighbours keen
on ‘knocking shops’ and ‘hashish’. It is a sketch in miniature of civilisation,
glued together by rumour and always on the brink of collapse.
The novel contains a selection of personalities, often with interesting
foibles. Among them are Güllü Baba, the oldest resident, who is blind and
makes predictions, ‘so mysterious that nobody could understand them’; the
factory owner, Mr Izak, whose ‘reputation grew velvet and creamy [as] his
iron fist began to show’; and Lado, the gambler, who all his life sought the
answer to the question, ‘Who was greater, God, or the man who invented
gambling?’ Tekin draws strong, occasionally subversive, female characters
such as Fidan ‘Of Many Skills’, who teaches women to find pleasure in
lovemaking – although their husbands thwart their desires, because Flower
Hill is a male-dominated society.
The novel has sustained metaphorical depths, great if you like pondering,
but it can be hard work to read. It’s difficult to get emotionally involved when
there’s only a cool, clear authorial voice and no central protagonist. The last
few chapters featuring Lado are high-points, so it’s worth persevering.

Swords of Ice is a story about a would-be entrepreneur called Halihan
Sunteriler who saves a red Volvo from the scrap heap, imagining it to be ‘a
greeting from teknologi, the power that let him control enormous energies
with a tiny movement from his foot and guide vehicles that weighed tons
with the mere touch of a wheel.’ However, Halihan is daydreaming to think
that he can control such forces; the car is shown, ironically, as being very
much ‘in charge’. Instead of magically leading Halihan to successful moneymaking
schemes as he expects, it embroils him in disastrous extra-marital
affairs: ‘About ten nights earlier, when Halihan was on his way home, the
Volvo had suddenly turned into a side street, headed down dark alleys, and
of her own free will parked at the door of a night club called Bella.’
Halihan’s attempts to enlist the support of his friend Gogi and his
brothers Hazmi and Mesut in setting up the Teknojen company (purpose and
products unknown) prove divisive rather than lucrative. Family arguments
and suspicion rupture tentative understandings amongst this ill-assorted
group. Gogi is the most ‘cultured’ man in the neighbourhood and only turns
to business to please his friend; Hazmi has severe anger management issues,
whilst Mesut is dominated by his wife. ‘In great friendships even a hole as
tiny as an atom could spark off magnetic storms that destroy love and flatten
the soul to a silken thickness.’
The novel concludes with a scattering of poetic phrases, desperate and
beautiful. It is a perplexing book that manages to dabble with nihilism,
whilst retaining a delicate sense of humour. As Tekin aptly concludes in a
post-scriptum: ‘Writing! Faithful foe of the poor! I have used you to deepen
even more the enigma of our ragged lives.’

Hannah Adcock


Fi from Four Paws and Whiskers said...


"George" from Bedales - your class here...
Saw your entry on an article about the library and we tracked you down

Love to ehar from you and I just blogged on bedales - so check it out :)
fiona - alias george

Anonymous said...

Dear George

I think you left Bedales as I arrived at age 13, so I am not sure we met - David Zinkin tells me you were a good mate of his. Looks like life has treated you well and I wonder if you'll make the next reunion - I guess we'll be sixty or so (how scary is that) when it happens!

Best wishes


Knowlege said...

I think it is great.