A translated extract from the novel Kalanlar by Tezer Özlü

Translated by Patrick Sykes


In order to explain, I look at the line that merges the hills of the sky-hazed Bosphorus into one another in the final minutes of a long hot June day. Italian singers are singing their most melancholy songs. My daughter is skipping over a shoelace tied between two chairs. Today is Sunday. A small white boat moves ahead in the waters of the Bosphorus, whose filth goes unseen now that the sky has dimmed. Over on the far side, on the balcony of the fourth floor of the apartment behind the pine trees, my Australian English teacher from 15 years ago is sat with his back to me. Slightly to the left, I see electricity pylons, a small section of apartment, and the trees in darkness. Behind the Arnavutköy port is a meyhane spilling green light into the water. With its pale red lights and long chimney, the little ferry is approaching.

The thoughts behind my eyes that see all this ponder continents, cities, goings-on, people. Poets, singers, novels, films, symphonies and wars have all told of this city. Many others, too, perhaps without narrating, have written on their memory, eyes and egos, the rise of the sun, its setting, the mountains, the empty plains, the crowded towns, love, the steps anticipated down a hospital corridor, and further, their heaviest, most beautiful sentence, saved for their deathbed.

As I walk up, it's as if I'm going to the last house of the city. Ahead is a little hill, a few trees on top. In the darkness they’re more like individual dark shadows, the rest light; an ascending light, from the illuminated building on the other side of the hill. But I needn’t think about such buildings. It's just that when I see this light in the round sky render the trees dark, it's as though I'm going to the final house of this vast city. The back of the round hill is a world of its own ­- whether our city or any from around the world! This place encompasses everything. That which is born, that dies, that kills. That which gives life its kick.

His house is silent, dark. His stuff sits in neglect just as it was when he went to die. Dust heaped on top. The windows filthy. He must have come down here, then got on a bus as far as the coast and a city ferry on towards death. In the winter months he was getting ever thinner, shutting himself into the darkest basement room, occasionally making sana oil pasta for himself. He came down the hill and killed himself.

I'm going up. There is little strength in the heat. I open the windows. In front of me the Bosphorus like a lake. The pure green coast behind Vaniköy envelopes it, this vast city, Arnavutköy, with its streets, its Greek fishermen, its meyhanes by the coast, one of the least spoilt neighbourhoods.

This blue part of the Bosphorus , this green Vaniköy coast, the little ferries calling in at the port, the passing tanker that spans every inch of the sea, the white pleasure-boats that bring with them a longing for distant counties, the wooden houses that envelop the lively market streets, the strong wind that picks up en route back to Akıntı Burnu, the rising sun opposite me. Mornings that whiten with the fog. The sun sinking as it reflects hot red in the Yalı windows, the seagulls filling the surface of the sea.

You would sit in your dark room in order not to see these. Then you went down to where you would kill yourself.

To think of your house the way you left it, to think of your death, as I climb the hill in the hot summer months. Violet outside. I see a rainbow for the first time since my childhood. From Vaniköy hill, the sun enfolds the sky like a half circle, mixes with the high voltage line a little beyond the farther hill, and withers away. This place is mine. In order for its sea, its plants, its trees and this little neighbourhood to live in. I’ll take years in old age to look at the shifting colours of its sky.

There's nowhere else like it. The place I want before I head out to the ever changing, thronging world is right here. Now the clouds come over the sea, running from the hills.

I’ll watch nature's oddities for years. Just to feel full.




Original Turkish: here


Tezer Özlü was born on 10 September 1942 in Simav, Kütahya. Her short stories and autobiographical novel, Çocukluğun Soğuk Geceleri (Cold Nights of Childhood), dealt with oppression in school, the family and marriage, and reflected her own troubled mental health over several mental breakdowns and suicide attempts. A fluent German speaker, she also translated works by Ingmar Bergmann, Heinrich Böll, Kafka and Enzensberger into Turkish. She died in 1986. This piece is from Kalanlar (1990), which collected her unpublished works and notes.  

One of her short stories, Kar (Snow), can be found here.

Patrick Sykes is a British/Irish writer and translator based in Tehran. His first chapbook, Even in the Still, was published by Wide Range in 2012, a selection from which won the Brewer Hall Prize. His poems and prose, including translations from Farsi and Turkish, have appeared or are forthcoming in Test Centre, Circumference and The White Review, among others.