A drip of ink

The audience went quite silent when the Turkish-Dutch literary translator answered the question: “Which Turkish book do you like the most?”. She replied: “That would have to be Istanbul, by Orhan Pamuk.” It turned out a majority of the audience of about thirty people had started to read Istanbul but only two had made it all the way to the last page. No, I was not one of those two. I gave up after only about fifty pages.

Then the translator, (prize-winning) Hanneke van der Heijden, started to explain why she liked the book so much. About how Pamuk contributes to writing about Istanbul as a Turk who was born there, whereas in literary history it has for a long time been foreigners who described the city. How he tries to look at the city from different angles with the help of what other Turks wrote about it, and how he nicely constructs his vision detail by detail. It was so interesting to hear this from a translator’s view – who else reads a book so closely, who else really sees the structure and the beauty of the language?

She also talked about another writer for whom Istanbul is important, Ahmet Hamdi Tanpinar, and Hanneke is translating his novel Saatleri Ayarlama Enstitüsü (The Time Regulation Institute). And, yes, she mentioned her most recently published translation, ‘Ask-i memnu’ (Forbidden Love), by Halid Ziya Usakligil. It was the first modern Turkish novel, published in 1900, and I have never read a book in which everything fits in place so nicely. It is set in the upper class of Istanbul, and the language used is just as rich as the whole setting of the book. It’s over the top, so full of metaphors oozing longing and pain – like ‘feelings spread inside her body like a drip of ink spreading on a silk handkerchief’, things like that. I absolutely loved reading it, and Hanneke agreed that’s it’s a stunning book. Maybe I can like Istanbul too. Let’s see where I dumped it and give it another chance.

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