Pamuk, Kemal et al.

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Kemal’s memoir describes the life of his family in eastern Anatolia, by the Lake Van, and how the family was driven westwards by the Russians in WW1.

You read of gangs of children, orphaned through the war, who are hunted down and killed; of the fantastic wide, wide landscape; of storytellers wandering from village to village; of an orphan whom the family rescues and who much, much later kills Kemal’s father in a mosque, right next to Kemal; of his beginnings as a writer, living in a card-board-box in an Istanbul park, eating the fish that he caught in the Bosporus.

In German the book is called “Der Baum des Narren”, literally “The fool’s tree”.

Yes, in a sense he is a naive and un-intellectual writer. His writing is very much focused on the plot.

I wouldn’t pit Pamuk and Kemal against eachother, just like I wouldn’t pit, say, Brahms and Wagner, against eachother (or to make the comparison seem less German: Hemingway vs. Thomas Wolfe).

They are both strong artists in their own right.

Yes, I have been to Anatolia. I cycled from Istanbul to Dogubeyazit, on the Iranian border.
It was very, very memorable.
The people are extremely hospitable. The roads are well paved and empty. In the mornings, the muezzin awakes you (actually the “click” of the loudspeaker awakes you when the muezzin turns it on).
The land is sparsely populated and undulates in huge waves. When you reach the top of a hill you have a wide view over the yellow steppe.
There are volcanoes and ancient cities that have been dug underground.
And so on and so forth.

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what a nice description. There is so much to see in Europe and Asia. As for Kemal, I did not read this particular book, it was something about a hero in the mountains close to Kaukasus, hmm, I hope it written by Kemal. Anyway, your and Yardimli’s post are so inspiring, thanks.

Our university did some interesting research in Turkey for a long time. Unfortunately, my life at the institute started when that was over. So my only experience is a walk along the coast near Izmir. Travelling a country and reading its literature is a wonderful combination I think. Nobody can take these stories – read and lived – away, whatever else happens.

Volcanoes: We had 3 days of continuous earthquakes this weekend. Every 20 minutes rough shake, it was directly beneath us (that is why we have hot springs in each house here), quite frightening, and no sleep for 60 hours. I still feel like tortured…


I know the earthquake feeling. Actually as long as it’s harmless, I have to admit I find it very interesting. The feeling of fright and excitement is real, it makes one feel more alive, and you are reminded you should respect and admire natures kingdom even if you’re in the middle of a big city. In 1999 we had a terrible earthquake here, unfortunately thousands of people died, but we didn’t learn about the scale of the tragedy until the next day, and that night was very interesting. Together with millions of people we slept outside as the aftershocks continued. Before each tremour the entire nature (birds, dogs, cats) gave different signs that a new one was coming. Strangely even birds that flew started screaming a second before it shook again. I remember it was four o’clock in the morning, and we lived by the seashore, and a few minutes after the quake thousands of people, woken up by the sound, had silently started walking towards the shore where there’s a big park. Everyone was dressed in pijamas, etc, and entire families walked towards the park. Children had their pets with them, dads their radios, moms blankets and pillows and no one spoke. But what was more interesting was to experience a night when millions of people had nothing but each other to hold on to. Suddenly everything that was previously of value made no sense,houses which were normally people’s "castle"s, became the enemies. As morning came and we could see the smoke from the opposite shore, the sky was filled with emergency and military helicopters flying towards that district and then we learned how bad it was. Later we all joined the rescue work (I was doing translations for the rescue teams that had arrived from Norway), but what I learned that night was that such a shocking event is told in the news with the death numbers and tragedies. But there is so much more that changes during those few seconds. Poor districts with solid grounds, suddenly becomes the hope of the rich, you start talking to your neighbour that you had a fight with the night before. You share all your feelings, your fright, your anger, your admiration for life. Because you have something very in common with him. You both survived.

There is much to be told but I’ll stop here. Voltaire has a very interesting essay on an earthquake he witnessed, and Howard Fast tells in The Immigrants about the San Fransisco earthquake. Somehow earthquakes attracts many authors, and as long as it doesn’t turn out to be a tragedy, I think one should try to feel, and maybe even enjoy it.


I admire what you did. I traveled to the east, but with bus, which I’m sure is not half as interesting as cyling through the area. I must say it sounds adventurous considering all the mountains, the half desert landscapes. However I remember the underground cities too. We went to a small village, and there were no one there. Then we found a small entrance with stairs that led down somewhere. There we found another village under the ground.

Its strange, because even if you’re turkish, you’re a foreigner there. Most of the population is Kurdish and its difficult to communicate with them. Only the children speaks Turkish and they learn it in school. I can understand what Kemal means to you.

About comparing Pamuk and Kemal. When you live here, there comes a time when you have to make a choice actually. It’s the question “Who are you? Which Turkey do you belong to?” You cannot be Anatolian and Istanbulia at the same time. East of Ankara, a new country begins. While you can see traces of Western lifestyle there, it belongs to the east. Here, on the other hand, you see traces of Eastern lifestyle, but you belong to the west. This might be the main difference between the two authors. So you’re right in saying you cannot compare the two. They tell about entire different worlds. One is occupied with sufism, mysticism, the sultans, the art and the orient (Pamuk), and is taking his inspiration from writers such as Thomas Mann, Faulkner, etc., while the other is a folks writer, writing about legends, tales and the rural life of Anatolia. Pamuk is disliked by many here, since he’s writing as if he’s looking at Turkey from an ‘oriental’ point of view, that is, he writes as if he were a French traveler that came to Turkey and started writing about this place. Kemal, on the other side, belongs to these soils. (I remember that I read somewhere that Dostoevsky once said about Turgenyev, “One should buy him a telescope for his birthday, so he could have a better look at the Russian people.” Kemal may feel the same about Pamuk.) In Pamuk you read about Islamist women with headscarves that talks the way an enlightened French woman in Paris would talk. (Especially in Snow). But then, this is literature. And Pamuk, by no means claims to be a realist. Kemal comes from a small, Anatolian town, while Pamuk lives in a very Western district, comes from an old Istanbul and Ottoman ‘aristocrat’ family. Kemal is uneducated, while Pamuk finishes the most prestigious Turkish schools. Pamuk can only symphatizing with the Kurds and their fight for more rights, while Kemal is himself a kurd. Pamuk learns literature through the above mentioned names, while Kemal learns it through the “a??k” school… that is from a master of story telling and poetry.

Having noticed this “click” I must say you have keen ears. When I tell someone about this click, they always say they haven’t noticed it.

Sorry this post became so long, I did not have time to write it shorter. :slight_smile:

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EDIT: MOST wanted information:
During the days of earthquakes continuing at high level I thought of these catastrophies, where one large earthquake is followed by many earthquakes of decreasing magnitude. Now I can ask you: Were the following earthquakes again strong and damaging buildings, how often could you feel them a day? Was fear growing because the earth did not stop moving? To me, and it seems many people living here, there is always a feeling of “please no, the last one was enough”, when a bigger one is followed by smaller ones.

Sorry, I am too curious…

A, I remember that day of the earthquake. I was on excavation in Greece, we could feel only a little at our site (still a lot was destroyed in Athens) and from one day to the other the workers started talking with sympathy about the Turkish people. It was in that respect a very good thing, and this sympathy seemed to stay over the years. Your description about the effects of such an extraordinary situation are so vivid. Here we all know where to go when something of this kind happens, and this time elder people or those living alone spent their nights in the official places. We are used to trains stopping and roads being closed because of typhoons and earthquakes. I think it is true if people say that this is what makes the Japanese less concerned about their properties – it can be taken from one moment to the next. This time, the earthquake was strange in another respect: Everytime before a larger move, there was a deep roar from inside the earth, like a volcano eruption, but in the earth below us, then silence, then the shock. Even the elder people said they never had heard this. And I remembered Plinius writing about his uncle when the Vesuvio erupted in 78 or 79.

OK, and now, I wait for my collection of Pamuk and Kemal and read it according to your explanations. Btw, thhe novel of a certain Turkish writer about an Armenian family building palaces for the Sultan would interest me as well.

About the Sultanat: I one read a book “Paschalis island (Paschalis Insel in German)” about a Greek informant for the Sultan who spent his life writing every little movement on the little island for the Government, an ugly little figure in an atmosphere of the final stages of a great empire. Nobody would ever be interested in reading his reports, but I as a reader of that novel was fascinated. I don’t think it is well known as a masterpiece of literature, perhaps it is and I am just ignorant (I am, as far as literature is concerned), but it was impressive. Perhaps you know it.

All the best,

Maria and Yardimli: fascinating posts.

I liked Turkey very much, also by bus (I have visited the country several times). To wake up at night on the bus, everybody is sleeping, outside there is the vast darkness, and the driver is quietly talking to his friend or co-driver, in a language you don’t understand, but feel comforted by in its melodiousness…

Turkey, I feel, is unique in that it stands alone; it has no natural affiliation like Germany has to France or England. It is neither part of the neighbouring Western world, nor part of the neighbouring Arab world.

It was a colonial power, rather than being a colony.

And then of course there was Atatürk, a seminal figure.

The money that built the house that I live in here in Germany was partially made in the Osman Empire: it comes from a man who was one of the financers of the Hejaz railway (which later T E Lawrence fought so hard to disrupt).

By the way: also a fascinating man (T E Lawrence that is). I just read again in the Seven Pillars. Eventually though, when reading him, I always feel: why and to what end all this? There is a nihilism to him which his “freedom fight” only seems to cover up for – in my opinion.

Too bad I have never experienced a (harmless) earthquake.

The earthquake in Lissabon/Portugal in 1755 had a strong, almost traumatizing effect on European culture: how can God be just if he lets children and other innocents die? It was the first time that this question rose to a broader consciousness. Many, many books and essays were written, many complicated theological justifications.

There is strong story about this earthquake by the German writer Kleist.

and now I will open these yet unopened removal boxes and look for my Kleist “Gesamtausgabe” to check that earthquake story. Kleist – his writings about Haiti fascinated me as a girl, and then many of his plays.
I would have liked to have travelled like you, in really really “remote” regions. I only travelled with InterRail in the 70ies and early 80ies, that limits one to more “civilized” parts of Europe. Still, great journeys I would never wish to miss.
Here it is time to sleep, let us see how this evolves until next morning…

The story by Kleist is actually about an earthquake that took place in Chile in 16 something.

Maria, some of the earthquakes that followed were damaging, in that they made already damaged building collapse. But none were stronger than the main quake. As far as I know, earthquakes are generally followed by aftershock, and they can last to up to three months. Sometimes there are also preshocks. They can be warnings about a greater shock. In the 18. or 19. century Istanbul witnessed one of these. For many months, the earth shook ever day, numerous times, and every time some damage was done to the city. People started believing the earth was coming to an end. It’s not known however, which of these shocks were the main earthquake, and which were the pre and aftershocks.

I must however add that I’m absolutely sure that Japan will never witness a devasting earthquake like this, unless the world really comes to an end (which is a possibility these days, of course). People are probably much more conscious of earthquakes there and the system is much more earthquake-proof than it is here. Here people were ‘smart’ enough to run to the sea shore, believing full heartedly that a thing such as tsunami didn’t exist. I myself, was one of them.

Literature about earthquake is very interesting. There are those that imagine earthquakes, and they can easily be spotted by those who have really been through one. Generally its just layers of the planet shaking and vibrating, people shouting, buildings and bridges collapsing, and those who try to film it or write about it, but havent really been in it, focuses on these aspect. But if you honestly start to describe it, there are millions of things that happen at that moment, and you remember many of them as you talk or write about them. The aftermate is equally confusing. Days after it has ended you are still in shock and amazement. In many ways its not just the earth around you that is tremouring, but the society as a whole and as a person yourself. You begin to question things, things that you never thought about questioning before. Maria is absolutely right, people gradually become less concerned over property.

This is something that I think can be very difficult for people in stable and capitalist regions to understand. It’s a whole other dimension of perceiving life, a different value structure. The same goes for cities that are occasionally destroyed by fires or other disasters. When the sultan decided to build a new palace here, there were those among the people that protested this. (One must have very good reasons to protest the Sultan!) Not because the Sultan was using the peoples money for his own comfort, (that, they wouldn’t dare questioning) but because the money would be wasted as eventually a fire or an earthquake would tear the palace down. That would be a sin according to Islam, as wasting is one of the great sins.

Another side affect is of course the supreme Being question. Months after the quake here a group of Islamist girl students protested the ban on headscarves in universities and they had a paper in their hand that said “Wasn’t 7.2 enough?” There were hours and hours of arguments on why the quake happened and while many hardcore islamists believed it to be a punishment for the more liberal west of the country (it hit 4 big western cities), there were also those that like Rochefore pointed out, openly questioned their religious beliefs. The most common phrase among the elder was, 'If you’re destined to die, there’s no use in running from the quake or even leave your buliding. Go to Konya (the only earthquake safe region in Turkey) the quake will follow you there." Surprisingly, a few months later there was a minor quake in Konya as well.

I haven’t read the book Paschalis island, but its subject seems very interesting. It reminds me of My Name is Red in some ways. I hope you’ll enjoy these two authors as soon as you get the books.

Rochefore, its very interesting to find out that a house built in Germany can be traced down all the way to the empire. I might use this bit of information in one of my novels one day. :slight_smile: And about T. E. Lawrence… Your observation about his nihilism is very interesting. It’s also to see consequences of nihilism in these parts of the world. Somehow nihilism seems to have traveled no further than Russia. Even there, it’s different from the ‘western’ concept. T. E. Lawrence is very little known here. A book about him would be interesting… (My publisher blood is running high again)

Rochefore, what is the name of the essay by Kleist? Or is it part of a general book. In Turkish I could only find a book called the Begger of Locarno or something like that. I plan to use a lot of earthquake and fire “after effects” in my story, so I try to read all I can about it.


it is called “Das Erdbeben in Chili”.

I do not know of translation of course. Thinking of that, I would like to read a translation of one of his plays, are they – translatable?


It’s been translated into English as “The earthquake of Chile”. Kleist liked dramatic stuff; his style of writing is curt and always focused on the action. That makes him easy to read, even today, 200 yrs after his suicide in Berlin.

The story of the house that I live in has even more facettes to it:
The money for it, as I said, came from a man who was one of the financers of the Osman railway. Yet, he was not the one who built the house.

The house was built by the man - my great uncle - who helped the daughter of the financer survive the Theresienstadt concentration camp. In 1940 or 41 she, an old woman already, was forced into Theresienstadt.

Out of gratefulnes she made him the sole heir after her death in the early 1950s. With the money he built this house.

My great-uncle was what one today would call a nationalist conservative. He had been a high ranking soldier in WW1 and was very much against Hitler. He narrowly escaped execution after the 1944 military plot against him.

After the war, as all his property had been reduced to rubble by the bombing of Munich, he was left with nothing.

The woman, that he had helped to survive, fed and clothed him and his family after the war.

My great-uncle died in the 1970s. Nobody wanted to live in this house after his death because he had built it almost in the middle of nowhere, on top of a ruined medieval castle that once housed my ancestors.

Around it are just forests and sleepy villages.

With some detours, I inherited this house two years ago.

Now, what makes this story so nice for me in this context is this:
with my writing I am hardly able to sustain myself and my family.
But: as I own this house and don’t have any rent to pay, I can get along just alright.

Summing it all up, I can say: money that has come down to me from the Turkish Sultan makes it possible for me today to be a full time writer.

Neat, isn’t it?

So I say to you: Merhaba arkadas!

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You don’t happen to know any names your grand uncle worked with here, do you? There’s a very very slight chance, but the family I’m working on (Balyans), generall known to be architects, had also established a railway company here. (Sirket-i Nafia-yý Osmani) Things didn’t go well with it, but…

trying desperately to follow every possible thread here… :slight_smile:

By the way…

This house was built by one of them for the German emperor Wilhelm II. in Istanbul in 1889.

I will not try to hide my jealousy, by the way. All I can say is, this is an unfair world we live in! :stuck_out_tongue:

His name was Moritz von Hirsch, or Maurice de Hirsch. The woman that was in Theresienstadt was actually not his daughter, but his granddaughter.

As far as I know, he had the concession by the Turkish government to build the railway line through the Balkans to Constantinople, among other concessions.

Very nice house.

Checked it out. Yet it all points out to the Balkan railway project. The Balyans on the other hand were more occupied with the railways in Anatolia. Still worth the try… :slight_smile:

By the way, you should consider writing your family story. I’m sure it will be a big hit here, if not everywhere then definitly here. I’ll personally recommend it to different publishers that I know.

‘Memed, My Hawk’ yes?

Read it last summer, quite a good book. I’ll have to check out his memoirs.

I do like Pamuk better, as far as fiction goes, but he is a bit ivory tower.

yes, thank you! I read it 12 or so years ago, should read it again.


Off the topic, but I wasn’t sure if it would be right to open a new room for this:

You might not agree with it, but nevertheless you’ll enjoy playing with it.

All the best,

Hey, that was odd!

In four clicks, I ended up with a map of only three writers.

Do you suppose one can get a map of only a single author? That if you like that particular writer, you won’t care for anyone else at all??


Hello Yardimli, I sent you a PM…