If the works of Turkish writers attracted anything like the attention in Europe that their political harassment and those responsible for it receive, our picture of Turkey would be somewhat more balanced.
This disparity, which is clearly demonstrated by the fact that non-fiction books criticising Erdogan far outweigh literary translations from the Turkish, is all the more evident when it comes to the genre of short stories.
Happily, Berlin publishers Binooki are expanding readersʹ horizons in that regard – most recently with the remarkable short-story collection "Das Buch der entbehrlichen Gedanken" by Omur Iklim Demir.
The book, comprising ten stories (including a brief, one-page miniature) is Demirʹs debut, published in 2015 by the high-profile Istanbul publishing house YKY. It has already won the author, who was born in 1980 and is a former criminal lawyer and advertising copywriter, several literary prizes. These may well have opened up a path to Europe for him; for the past two years, he has been living in Amsterdam.
Demirʹs stories may be set in Istanbul, but they could just as easily take place in any large town on Turkeyʹs coast. Anyone expecting to find the much-hyped atmosphere of the Bosphorus metropolis here will be disappointed.
A skilful literary journey through space and time
The always believable protagonists are also only seldom and very loosely connected with the famously turbulent periods of Turkish history. Where historical events do arise, they are at most alluded to in the recollections of characters who mostly seem like ageing left-wing activists. They regard their own political past as a youthful escapade – or, as in the case of the peculiar banker Taner, as a chapter from another life.
But in Demirʹs work, falling out of history certainly doesnʹt mean falling out of time; quite the reverse. This author has a talent and a love for skilfully creating such a whirl of space and time in his narratives that again and again, the reader is surprised and confounded. The jaded misanthrope and womaniser Taner, for instance, is transformed into a sentimentalist by a chance encounter with a stranger, a woman who mistakes him for a man she has arranged to meet through a lonely hearts ad, and whom she has missed by being two hours late.
Reading this story, the second in the collection, you suddenly become aware that this is a continuation of the first story about two people looking for love – but, as in a multi-perspective film, the tale has been deconstructed and put back together in a new configuration.
Playing with the reader
As a reader, this inevitably puts you on your guard with the stories that follow: might the first-person narrator here, a middle-aged man with no name and no orientation, who is going through a divorce and loses his job with an insurance firm, have something to do with the first story? Or perhaps itʹs the homeless Rasim, with whom he hangs around, drinking, philosophising about life and becoming increasingly like him?
Even if the threads of the first story soon break, you keep catching yourself searching for them. And that has something to do with the fact that Demir repeatedly lures the reader into traps, only allowing you to realise at the end of a story that heʹs been playing with you.
There is the extremely fashion-conscious Ceren, for example, who is getting dolled up for a rendezvous and annoys the obviously bored Julinde in the next room so much with her chatter that the reader is forced to sympathise with this housemate – without guessing who this Julinde really is.
Ceren incidentally also appears in the previous story, a monologue by a man married to someone else, who looks back wistfully to his music-loving youth and dreams about it at night.
An air of mystery
Not every story is more or less enigmatically intertwined with the others. The remaining, stand-alone pieces are surrounded by an air of mystery imparted by the frequently inserted dream sequences and the comical or absurd situations.
The final story, which features Selim, a divorced man living with his widowed and increasingly demented mother, also has elements that depart from reality, like her confused thoughts. Eventually, her despairing son loses the will to combat them.
This story in particular is where Demir reveals himself as a virtuoso, walking the fine line between realism and surrealism. It will be interesting to see what his next work brings.
© Qantara.de 2019
Translated from the German by Ruth Martin