April 08, 2013
Merhaba. (‘Hello’ … brushing up my Turkish ready for the London Book Fair …)
As promised in my previous blog – on the non-Turkish writers in our collection – I’m now going to look at the Turkish writers. I think it was 2008 when Turkey was special guest at the greatest of international book trade jamborees, the Frankfurt Book Fair. We were just setting up Oxygen Books then and knew we had to be there. It was brilliant! It included a wonderful exhibition on Turkish writers and writing and the sheer numbers of excellent writers, past and present, that were way off our own radar – even though we are ‘booky’ people – made us feel a mixture of sadness and excitement. The sadness was for their work not being widely available or known about in the Anglophone world, but excitement that we might be able to play a very, very small part in trying to put that right.
While we were in the exhibition area, we were approached by a Turkish TV film unit for a brief interview. They asked how much I knew about Turkish literature. I said shamefully, not very much. I’d read most of Orhan Pamuk‘s work, of course, and l loved The Birds Have Also Gone by Yashar Kemal. I knew of Elif Shafak and also owned a copy of Orhan Kemal‘s The Idle Years, and had briefly been a friend of Turkish writer ‘in exile’ Moris Farhi but that was all – though I promised, after having my eyes opened somewhat by this exhibition, I would try to cure my ignorance. The interviewer smiled and said, ‘Actually, that is much more than most English people know …’ And I had the feeling she wasn’t just being nice.
And this year, Turkey is Market Focus of the London Book Fair and our city-pick ISTANBUL comes out on 11th April, just a few days before the Fair opens. And I can’t express what a pleasure it has been to work with Turkish agents, writers, and translators as we have put together this collection that has so many wonderful Turkish writers in it. If, by sampling them in the extracts we have chosen, we manage to whet the appetites of our readers and make them realise what they’re missing in not having access to these writers, we will be happy. If, by presenting them alongside many well-known international writers in the context of an anthology, we manage to help alert Anglophone publishers to the huge pool of literary talent Turkey has to offer, we will be very happy. And if this, in its turn, leads to even a few more Turkish writers being available in English, then we will be ecstatic!
It would take too long to mention every single Turkish writer we have included – besides, you’ll be able to see them for yourselves very soon – but I would like to mention a few special favourites: first, Mehmet Zaman Saçlioğlu. I first came across his work in a lovely little anthology published by Comma Press, The Book of Istanbul, which included his charming short story, ‘The Intersection’. The tone and subject matter indicated that a wonderful mind had created the central character of the man who, voluntarily, directed traffic at a difficult road junction, day in and day out, without payment. But the superficial ‘lightness’ conceals a depth of meaning which I won’t spoil by laying it out on a plate. We couldn’t include the whole story – it’s too long – but have used a substantial extract. But do get hold of the Comma Press collection and read the whole thing. We also chose several extracts from a long piece by Saçlioğlu on winter in Istanbul. (Some of these are among my favourites.) The writing is sensitive, thoughtful, observant … it ‘delights the spirit’, if you know what I mean. I hope we will hear more of him.
As soon as we decided to put together an Istanbul collection, the first book I knew I’d include was The Birds Have Also Gone by internationally esteemed writer Yashar Kemal. It is a short but beautiful book. Read it! Mehmet, My Hawk is probably the novel for which Yashar Kemal is best known. Read that too, of course – but The Birds have Also Gone is my personal favourite. Kemal has long been a candidate for the Nobel Prize, and has already received the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade, and we are truly delighted by this distinguished writer’s agreement to be included in our book.
Of course, Nobel Prize-winner Orhan Pamuk has a presence in our book, but mainly through a fascinating interview about his life and work conducted by Shaun Walker for the Independent. It would have been easy to fill half the book with extracts from Pamuk’s work, but we decided that most of his books are already very well known here and that anyone interested enough in Istanbul to buy our book was certain to be already familiar with his work – especially with his memoir of the city. The interview includes a description of Pamuk’s ‘Museum’, based on his recent novel The Museum of Innocence - a museum set to be on the tourist trail …
Unto the Tulip Gardens: My Shadow is a most wonderful recreation – combining the modes of fact and fiction – by distinguished art historian Gül İrepoğluof the most lavish period of Ottoman grandeur. And it’s beautifully translated by Feyza Howell. The fascinating details of the period’s physical reality are enhanced by our engagement with the characters. The book is not yet available in English – but I it jolly well ought to be! In fact, it’s a bibliocrime to ‘steal’ this book from an English readership.
Another of my favourite ‘discoveries’ was the work of established and much-loved writer Oya Baydar. From her many works we chose extracts from The Gate of the Judas Tree, from Its Warm Ashes Remain, and from Returning Nowhere (the lovely English version of this was provided by a young Turkish translator living in London, İdil Aydoğan).
Another of Turkey’s best-selling writers I discovered for the first time was Tuna Kiremitçi, and we included extracts from The Way of Loneliness and the wonderfully titled Leave Before I Fall In Love With You. We also loved Gaye Boralıoğlu‘s Syncopated Rhythm. The depiction, in one of our extracts, of the young girl forced to sell flowers in the Istanbul traffic is not easily forgotten … The hard lives of Istanbul’s poor are also memorably represented by Gönül Kıvılcım in Razor Boy.
I could go on and on … but you’ll see them for yourself when you read the book. My big regret is that I couldn’t include an even greater range of writers. But this is true of every book we publish.. We are only human, and there are only twenty-four hours even in an editor’s day. (And we do like to include writers of many nations in each book.) But we hope that the samples we have presented in city-pick ISTANBUL will convince you to seek out more Turkish literature … and that the London Book Fair will be the place where lots of new contracts are signed for the translation and publication of books from an amazing country. Come on, British publishers: get you act together!
city-pick Istanbul is published by Oxygen Books, £9.99, on April 11 2013