22/12/2008

Turkey in Frankfurt

A survey of the Turkish books that attracted the most critical attention at this year's Frankfurt Book Fair


The two most important new discoveries in Turkish literature at the Frankfurt Book Fair were Murathan Mungan and Perihan Magden. Perihan Magden is the writer of "Two Girls", a novel set in Istanbul about an intense friendship between two girls that spirals out of control. The book was a bestseller in Turkey and was adapted to film by Kutlug Ataman. The SZ and the FAZ both profile the author at length. Magden is not only a highly successful novelist in Turkey, she is also a outspoken columnist who has had to defend her freedom of speech several times in court. "Perihan Magden is a thorn in the side, a scourge for all warmongers and generals, high-handed public prosecutors and bull-headed nationalists, and she goes at them with a sledge hammer in her books and her column in the left-wing liberal paper Radikal, which is compulsory reading for the Turkish intelligentsia," wrote the FAZ. But she also has little patience for the Kemalist Istanbul elite: "Those so-called secularists. They think they are the golden leaders of the land. They look at the Anatolians and the AKP and say: 'WE are the beautiful Turks. WE go to the ballet. WE should be in power. Not those farmers. How dare they!' And so they run to the army for protection," the SZ cites Magden as saying.

Murathan Mungan's novel "Chador" is a short novel (110 pages) about a young man who returns after a war to his homeland to find his family gone. The "Soldiers of Islam" are now in power. All pictures have been taken down and the women have disappeared under the chador. The critics were heavily impressed. "It is an Islamic 'Waste Land' where only nightmares bloom. Or an Islamic "The Man Outside" (Wolfgang Borchert) whose cantus firmus is the almost inaudible shutting of doors, which gently close as remorselessly as coffin lids," wrote Die Welt. For the SZ, Mungan "puts his finger on fundamentalist thought better than any headscarf controversy." The taz is impressed by the novel's linguistic elegance, which die Zeit went as far as to call "bewitching magic-dust prose."

In "Istanbul was a Fairytale" Mario Levi tells the history of Jewish Istanbul through one family's story. The NZZ praises the novel's "poetic beauty" and is reminded of Joyce. For the FR it is a tender chronicle of a century, a book "which tells of Jewish merchants, artists, and pickpockets in Istanbul, a work of voids explained, of speculations." Born in 1972, Murat Uyurkulak's first novel "Tol" describes Turkey's left-wing radical scene in the seventies. It is a tale "furiously" told, says the taz, rendering a vivid image of the repressive apparat on the one side and the "sense of powerlessness and hatred of the state" on the other.

The reviewers were deeply moved by Orhan Pamuk's (website) "The Museum of Innocence" which is pending translation into English. It is a novel about a passionate love affair that ends tragically. In it Pamuk describes the "socialisation" of emotions right down to the most intimate impulses, writes Die Zeit, which was "impossibly moved". As were the FAZ, the taz, the NZZ and the SZ. Only the FR had to suppress a yawn and found thinking about the novel more worthwhile than actually reading it. The critics were also impressed by Elif Shafak's "The Flea Palace", a novel which recounts the stories of ten very different inhabitants of an Istanbul apartment building. Sebnem Isigüzel's "Am Rand" (on the edge) tells the parallel stories of Leyla, a diplomat's daughter, chess whizz and queen of the Istanbul garbage tip, and the psychologically disturbed musicologist Yildiz.

And two literary greats were unearthed for reappraisal: Ahmet Hamdi Tanpinar (1901-1921) and Nazim Hikmet (1902-1963). Lovers of pared-down language will probably find Tanpinar unpalatable. The heroes of his books "A Mind at Peace" and "The Clock-Setting Institute" are struggling to come to terms with Atatürk's modern Turkey. Nuran, the love-struck hero of "A Mind at Peace" is not only longing for his beloved but also for the poetry and the warmth of the Ottoman Empire. Die Zeit genuflects before the Tanpinar's "metaphorical artistry", the FAZ gets mildly protective about the "spiritual glow". The NZZ makes the Proust comparison. Nazim Hikmet is one of Turkey's best-known poets. Ammann publishers have brought out a new selection of his poems in Turkish and German, which are "a revelation" for Die Zeit. Suhrkamp has published Hikmet's autobiographical novel "The Romantics", whose "radical modernity" knocked the socks off the FR. (It is unfortunately out of print in English).

Hats were also taken off to Klaus Kreiser's Atatürk biography. The critics are not only overwhelmed by the mass of information and the knowledgeable explanations but also by the vital and enthralling portrait that emerges. Necla Kelek's critical book on contemporary Turkey "Bittersweet Homeland" has received just one ill-disposed review in the taz so far, which accuses her of writing with the "pathos of a convert". It seems freeing oneself of one's religion is not the done thing. Funny that the Left should suddenly be so insistent about the values of tradition, religion and family – at least in others. Kelek's book is all about why she is rejecting all this. But it also takes on the rifts and problems in Turkey's political camps – Kemalist and AKP alike. And it reflects on Turkey's role in WWII, which is not really one to be proud of. There is a lot to be learned from in this book which is packed with information and highly personal at the same time.

Get the signandsight newsletter for regular updates on feature articles.
signandsight.com - let's talk european.

 
More articles

No one is indestructible

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

TeaserPicA precision engineer of the emotions, Peter Nadas traces the European upheavals of the past century in his colossal and epic novel "Parallel Stories", which was published in English in December. The core and epicentre of the novel is the body, which bears the marks of history and trauma. In his seemingly chaotic intertwining of lives and stories, Nadas penetrates the depths of the human animal with unique insight. A review by Joachim Sartorius
read more

Road tripping across the ideological divide

Wednesday 1 February, 2012

TeaserPicThe USA and the USSR should not simply be thought of as arch enemies of the Cold War. Beyond ideology, the two nations were deeply interested in one another. Ilya Ilf and Yevgeny Petrov were thrilled by the American Way of Life in 1935/6, John Steinbeck and Robert Capa praised the sheer vitality of the Russian people in 1947. Historian Karl Schlögel reviews a perfect pair of travel journals. Photo by Ilf and Petrov.
read more

Language without a childhood

Monday 23 January 2012

TeaserPicTurkish-born author, actor and director Emine Sevgi Özdamar was recently awarded the Alice Salomon Prize for Poetics. Coming to West Berlin in 1965, Özdamar first learned German at the age of 19. After stage school she went on to become the directorial assistant to Benno Besson and Matthias Langhoff at the Volksbühne in East Berlin while still living in West Berlin. Harald Jähner warmly lauds the author's uniquely visual sense of her acquired language and her ability to overcome the seemingly insurmountable dividing line through the city.
read more

Friendship in the time of terror

Monday 9 January 2012

Nadezhda Mandelstam's personal memories of the Russian poet Anna Akhmatova, her intimate friend, offer a unique and moving testimony to friendship and resistance over decades of persecution. Published only after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989, the text is still unavailable in English but has recently been translated into German. A unique historical document, celebrating an intellectual icon in an age of horror. Portrait of Akhmatova by Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin.
read more

Just one drop of forgetfulness

Thursday 8 December, 2011

TeaserPicThis year is the 200th anniversary of the death of German writer Heinrich von Kleist. The author Gertrud Leutenegger has a very Kleistian afternoon on Elba, when she encounters the Marquise von O in the waiting room of a very strange eye doctor.
read more

German Book Prize 2011 - the short list

Tuesday 4 October, 2011

TeaserPicEugen Ruge has won the German Book Prize with his novel "In Zeiten des abnehmenden Lichts" (In times of fading light), an autobiographical story of an East German family. The award is presented to the best German-language novel just before the start of the Frankfurt Book Fair. Here we present this year's six shortlisted authors and exclusive English translations of excerpts from their novels.

read more

Torment and blessing

Wednesday 28 September, 2011

Chinese dissident Liao Yiwu escaped into exile in Germany in July this year. His new book about his life in Chongqing prison has just been published in German as "Für Ein Lied und Hundert Lieder". Both book and author have a life-threatening odyssey behind them. I am overjoyed that Liao Yiwu is here with us and not at home in prison. By Herta Müller
read more

In the vortex of congealed time

Monday 12 September, 2011

No other European city suffered more in World War II than Leningrad under siege, when over a million people lost their lives. Russian literature delivers a rich testimony of the events which have been all but forgotten by the West. Only a few works, though, also do the disaster aesthetic justice. By Oleg Yuriev
read more

My unrelenting vice

Tuesday 6 September 2011

In this apology for the vice of reading, Bora Cosic describes the magnificent and fantastic discoveries of one of its practitioners – revealing how texts contain what we bring to them, how we sometimes read without reading and how books are not only found in books but many other places. 
read more

Potential market, no buyers

Monday 4 July, 2011

The most successful Croatian book of 2008 sold exactly 1,904 copies. Not what one could really call a market, although together the successor republics represent a single language community. A look at the situation of publishers and authors in the former Yugoslavia. By Norbert Mappes-Niediek.
read more

Head versus hand

Monday 27 June, 2011

TeaserPicThis year's German International Literature Award goes to "Venushaar", a Russian novel that starts out as a dialogue between an asylum seeker and an immigration officer, and opens into a vast choir of voices. A conversation with its author Mikhail Shishkin, a literary giant in his own country, and his German translator Andreas Tretner. By Ekkehard Knörer. (Image: Mikhail Shishkin © Yvonne Böhler)
read more

Cry for life

Monday 20 May, 2011

Algeria's youth: Frustrated, isolated and in the stranglehold of clandestine political structures. Young Algerians are rebelling against being locked in traditional political and social structures, but have no chance of a national uprising like that in Tunisia, says Algerian author Boualem Sansal. An interview with Reiner Wandler.
read more

Witness to intellectual suicide

Tuesday 3 May, 2011

TeaserPicOn what would have been Romanian philosopher E.M. Cioran's 100th birthday, Suhrkamp has published a volume of his essays from the 1930s, "Über Deutschland". Effervescing with enthusiasm for Hitler and fascist ideas, they cast a dark shadow over his later writing. Fritz Raddatz wishes he'd never had to read such abominations and bids a former companion a bitter farewell. Photo: E.M. Cioran © Surhrkamp Verlag
read more

RIP Andre Müller

Wednesday 13 April, 2011

TeaserPicAndre Müller Germany's most insightful and most feared interviewer is dead. Elfriede Jelinek said of him in her obituary: "Andre Müller goes all the way into people and then he makes them into language, and only then do they become themselves." Read his interviews with Ingmar Bergman and Hitler's sculptor Arno Breker in English. Photo courtesy Bibliothek der Provinz
read more

A country on the edge of time

Monday 4 April, 2011

TeaserPicSerbia was the country in focus at this year's Leipzig Book Fair – its extensive literature seems to be bound up in the straitjacket of politics. Serbia is having a hard time with Europe, and Europe is having a hard time with Serbia. Although there are signs of a softening stance, the country is still locked up in the self-imposed nationalist isolation into which it manoeuvred itself as the aggressor in the Yugoslavian war of secession. A visit there inspires mixed feelings. By Jörg Plath
Photo: Sreten Ugricic
read more