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Turkish Delights

At Chora, I purchased the inaugural issue of The Istanbul Review, edited by Hande Zapsu Watt, now available at many government-owned tourism sites in greater Istanbul. The 200+ page glossy includes brief interviews with Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Gerhard Schröder, Elif Shafak, Ludmilla Petrushevskaya, Banana Yoshimoto, and an annoying Paolo Coelho. Highlights of the issue include Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s memoir “Going Home” and André Naffis-Sahely’s poems—see Molossus 1 for his translation of Frankètienne’s fiction. Other names in the inaugural issue include Sir Terry Pratchett, who contributes a one-page reflection on Reginald H Humphreys, the mysterious benefactor who donated Pratchett’s library lectern to the church that originally owned it. Issue 2, themed “The Screen of Literature,” will be published in Winter 2012.

Orhan Kemal’s In Jail with Nâzim Hikmet (Everest Publications, 2012), translated by Bengisu Rona, was first published in Britain in 2010 by Saqi Books. The Turkish edition, at 12.50 TL, features a more attractive design than its British counterpart. In it, in a Bursa, Turkey prison in 1940, aspiring poet Orhan Kemal, serving a long sentence for allegedly inciting Turkish soldiers to mutiny, meets his idol, Nâzim Hikmet, Turkey’s most famous poet and communist who advised him to abandon his poetry for prose. Kemal is now regarded as one of Turkey’s most important novelists (d.1970). his brisk, enjoyable prose, well-rendered into English by Rona, recounts several prison workshops and literary salons, and is interrupted by poems by both authors, including particularly satisfying translations of Hikmet’s poems “Orchestra”:

Chuck your twanging noise-box.
That three-stringed fiddle
with three feeble nightingales
chattering on its three strings,
it’s quite useless

and “Mechanization”:


Trak tiki tak!

I want to be mechanised!
It comes from my brain, my flesh, my bones!
I’m driven mad by the desire to take over
every dynamo I can lay my hands on!

The book earns the entirely warranted praise of Maureen Freely—Nobel winner Orhan Pamuk’s translator from the Turkish—who deemed it “A jewel of a memoir—beautifully translated.”

Özel Dersler/Private Lessons, available from Robinson Crusoe 389 in Istanbul, collects British-Turkish artist and Nazim Hikmet-namesake Nazim Hikmet Richard Dikbaş’ portraits, on graph paper, of a wide range of faces, each captioned in handwritten Turkish. The captions, presented as short, somewhat odd speeches from Dikbaş’ simple but disturbing characters, are often humorous with a tinge of creepy, and suggest a strange educational system dominated by institutional control—perhaps a government-subsidized boarding school or asylum, from the perspective of both students and teachers: “Man, I said to myself, they allow smoking, so why not take things a step further? This is how the Introduction To Gambling In Math Class project began,” “Meanwhile, performances continue of ‘The Armpits of Someone from the Past,’ a play we wrote and staged collectively,” “Careful,I exclaimed, there’s a load of students looking forward to the exam papers in this briefcase,” and “Then there was the school anthem, but let’s leave that for the next one.” Sixty of the sixty-four illustrations were exhibited at the 12th Istanbul Biennial, in 2011, and this compact, handsome edition was published in May 2012. Read more about Nazim Hikmet Richard Dikbaş at art:21.

Meanwhile, on this side of the Atlantic, City Lights has published their second Bilge Karasu novel, A Long Day’s Evening, translated by Aron Aji with Fred Stark. The novel, according to translator Aji’s preface, “is one of those rare works that alter a nation’s literature.” Karasu, a translator himself, introduced his own peculiar experimentalism to Turkish literature by, for example, not using the conjunction ve [and] in the original, superficially because of his stalwart rejection of any vocabulary borrowed from other languages—ve comes from Arabic—and, on a deeper level, Aji suggests, because “the gesture carries an existential significance as well.” The novel recounts the personal consequence of Leo III’s outlawing of all religious paintings and icons on monk Andronikos in the 8th century before ending with a semi-autobiographical short story set in 1960s Istanbul.

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