The annual jamboree for publishers, authors and book-sellers will not of course attract as much worldwide attention as the Olympics did this year, but it provides an important platform for the Turkish publishing industry to showcase their content to the world. And since the majority of the world does not speak Turkish, expect a wealth of Turkish literature to be translated over the coming months, in preparation for London.
About time too! You only have to glance into a bookstore in your local shopping mall to see that Turkish publishers are much busier translating foreign works into Turkish than Turkish authors into English. While a high percentage of the best-sellers in Turkish are translations from English, the total output of Turkish authors translated into English would scarcely fill one shelf if stacked spine-out.
Checking the logos on the books on this hypothetical shelf would lead to just a few publishers standing out. One of these is Beyo?lu-based Çitlembik (trading as Nettleberry in the United States); this month their translation of Cezmi Ersöz’s popular “?izofren A?ka Mektup” hits the bookshops.
With the English title “Confessions of a Love Come Undone,” this slim volume of nearly 150 pages is a 21st century love story. At one sitting it could easily be read in an afternoon. One Turkish forum contributor wrote of the original Turkish best-seller: “It took me a month and a half to read it, it hurt so much.”
If literature is a mirror to the psyche, Ersöz is an expert at polishing that mirror. His tale is less a story of events, but a description of the thoughts and feelings of two lovers, each damaged irreparably by their inability to share the deep, loving, intimate relationship they each so desperately long for.
As with most Turkish art, do not expect a “boy meets girl and they live happily ever after” sugary-sweet piece of chic-lit. Just as all the best Turkish films end with the audience leaving the cinema with tears in their eyes, this story is at once both romantic and pessimistic. It is as if one of the characters is speaking for all 75 million Turks when they say “we preferred tragedy to fleeting moments of happiness or complacent satisfaction in life.”
When I think of ?stanbul, I see a glorious sunny day in my mind’s eye, with the blue of the sky reflected in the deep waters of the Bosporus. I see laughing children throwing crumbs of simit rings to the seagulls circling their ferry. I see a bright skyline of proud domes and soaring minarets.
In Turkish art and literature often the imagery of ?stanbul is rain. The pop trio Mazhar-Fuat-Özkan’s famous hit song expressing the sadness when a lover has gone is even called “It is raining in ?stanbul this morning.” It includes the image of the seagulls being so down-hearted too that even they cried.
“Confessions of a Love Come Undone” continues this imagery. “My life was like an ?stanbul night: cold, rainy dulled into insensitivity. I had always been frightened when awakened by the sounds of rain drumming at the window. But now it was my loneliness and not the rain that drop by drop licked the window panes. … The sound of rain now reminds me that the door has closed on my dream of finding love. Rain signifies the end, the end of love, the end of my life. It’s raining again. It’s night time again. It’s ?stanbul again.”
Also, do not expect a narration of a sequential time-line of events, leading up to one final climatic scene. Instead Ersöz explores the heart and the mind, emotions and motives. We never learn the hero and heroine’s name, but we learn their intimate secrets, most of which are hidden from each other.
Using the clever device of having alternate chapters narrated in the first person by each of them means we gain an insight into how each interprets the same incidents. This gives the reader the sensation of being the psychologist as first the man and then the woman sit on our couch and talk to us from their innermost being. For these are truly two wounded people living an emotional roller-coaster, seeking healing in romance with each other, but never finding it.
His past means he cannot fully give himself in a committed relationship to another. Her hurt in never having her love totally requited and her deep overriding need to be truly loved leads her into a damaging relationship with another. Yet still they keep returning to each other. It is a typical can’t live with you, can’t live without you attraction.
From its stinging opening to its wistful final sentence, this story will grip you. For these two are loveable and likeable characters. They are the “everyman” and “everywoman” who have not reached a place where they can have a true loving relationship. Although they cannot realize their dreams, they are clearly truly meant for each other. Only a soul-mate can say “I felt your words before you ever voiced them.”
Couple this with prose that feels like poetry. Ideas are expressed so poignantly that at times it takes your breath away, leaving you feeling the powerful imagery of the words as much as feeling the devastating emotions they describe. “When you took away everything you had ever given me, you didn’t notice that you had left your smell on the pillow.”
The most poignant chapter for me was one where the recurring theme was an analysis of what loving the other really means in a difficult relationship. Perhaps its poignancy derives from another comparison with Western popular culture: the sugary imagery in the “Love is…” cartoon series. Here is one example, “Loving you meant fighting against the cruelty of a city, against the idea that you couldn’t fully respond.” or, “Loving you means reproaching myself for allowing feelings of anger and jealousy to wind around my soul like weeds.”
The only fly in the ointment is the usual poor standard of proof-reading in a Turkish published book. In the first hundred pages I counted nearly ten major typos. Four of these were a missing few words, or perhaps a whole missing line that resulted in a whole sentence or paragraph becoming totally garbled.
I guess this all leaves us with a final question: is Turkish literature depressing? Yes, in “Confessions of a Love Come Undone” there is the air of melancholy that often pervades Orhan Pamuk’s work. But as with all matters, it depends on your viewpoint. If your glass is half empty, you can experience some form of emotional healing by experiencing deep-set emotions being expressed in words. Another contributor to a forum wrote, “I found myself in every line.” If your glass is half full, you can gain a new gratitude for the good relationship you are in by immersing yourself for a few hours in the less fortunate experience of others. If we only appreciate what we really have when we lose it, how much better to realize this while it is still with us.
If you have ever felt “the absence of you became the absence of me” or “only half a person because I was without you,” then let master wordsmith Ersöz hold up a window to your soul.
“Confessions of a Love Come Undone,” by Cezmi Ersöz, published by Çitlembik (2012) TL 15 in paperback (US price: $17) ISBN: 978-994442493-6.