Luke Frostick (Editor in chief)
I'm very excited about this edition of the BROB. It’s shaped up to be a really good one. I’m especially happy to have met Burhan Sonmez and I feel our conversation is a really interesting one.
This month, in addition to my usual work on the BROB, I’ve been working with the ITEF festival to put on an event. So I’m going to use my editorial column to shamelessly plug it!
I write about Turkish literature a lot. But I also have a love for Japanese and Russian literature and I just finished reading a bunch of Albert Camus. I wouldn’t be able to do any of this without the work of translators. They are the people that make literary exchange between cultures possible. But, somewhat understandably, they are so often overlooked when compared with writers. I think this is an injustice. The work they do is more complex and more sophisticated than just switching words over. Trying to convey emotions, concepts and complex narratives in a different language requires the translator to make complicated choices and could be called an art form in its own right.
That is why I’m very happy to be hosting three of the best Turkish to English translators on the 6th of May at KargArt Kadiköy. You can check out the FaceBook event page here.
Speaking, we have:
Alexander Dawe who has translated some of the finest classical Turkish literature including some of the works that we have written about in this magazine, including The Time Regulation Institute and A Useless Man. He has also worked on Madonna in a Fur Coat and a metric ton of other stuff.
We also have the translator of Harkan Günday’s More and Ece Temelkuran’s Turkey: The Insane and the Melancholy Zeynep Beler.
And finally the translator of Istanbul Istanbul, the writer I interviewed this month, Ümit Hussein. I’m feeling very excited about this and hope to see many of you in Kadiköy on may 6th.
Thanks to our artist, Mandana for another amazing cover. You can find more of her work on instagram mandanas777 (minik wanderer)
Erica Eller (Non-Fiction Editor)
It's been an issue filled with ups and downs for me. On the upside, I'm grateful for my friend Mandana's excellent work on the cover art. I also spent the greater part of the past two months reading letters, books and essays by and about Erich Auerbach, focusing on his time in Istanbul. I touch on some of the relevant issues surrounding his time in Istanbul in my interview with Dr. Geoffrey Green, who has specialized on Erich Auerbach as a scholar of literature. I consider Auerbach's work hugely relevant for our time, so whether you're familiar with his name or not, please check out the interview.
On the downside, we always need more book review submissions. This month, due to various set-backs, we fell short of outside contributors, so the section just features work from our editors. Nevertheless, the making of this issue has been memorable and I hope you'll enjoy it as a whole.
Finally, I'd like to share how I "discovered" poet Birhan Keskin, whose poetry I reviewed this month. On one of my first days in Turkey, not knowing a lick of Turkish, I went to Moda with Selim, a friend who had just returned to the city after finishing his doctorate in history in the United States. It was June of 2014. The weather was hot and humid. We went to a cafe where his friend Feridun was working. Feridun is a lawyer who had come to Istanbul from Izmir as an aspiring actor, his real passion. They also introduced me to Beyhan, the owner of the cafe, whose warmth and laughter immediately impressed me. A vast array of vegetarian meze dishes were spread out on the countertop. I pointed to a few things to order, not knowing the names of the dishes. We drank Turkish coffee and Beyhan even offered to read my fortune or “fal” in my grinds of coffee. Without realizing it then, I had been graced with an unforgettable introduction to Turkish hospitality.
The name of the cafe is Pasaj Cook and Book, quite a literal description of the main features found there. The space contains a cave-like passage which is filled with bookshelves. You can find books written by living poets and novelists who themselves frequent the cafe. The walls are painted with murals that look like Miró paintings, and large communal tables allow conversations to flow freely. You can easily perch for a few hours reading a book there.
A few years later, having learned a bit of Turkish, I wanted to delve into the books that stood on the café shelves. I asked Beyhan for a book recommendation. I assured her that it didn't matter if my Turkish wasn't adequate. I would use my dictionary, or just keep the books as mementos of Turkey. Without any hesitation, she pulled a few thin volumes from the shelves written by the poet Birhan Keskin: Ba, Soğuk Kazı, and Fakir Kene. I flipped through their pages, spotting interesting foreign titles like "Afrika" or "She Left Home" interspersed through the pages. With some familiar words speckling the pages, the books remained accessible, even to me.
I soon realized that whenever I mentioned the name Birhan Keskin, I'd be met with strong reactions from Turkish people my age, readers of poetry. And by mentioning the name Birhan Keskin, I came to realize that Turkey is a country where people from all walks of life savour poetry. This admiration isn't reserved for dead poets or ancient bards, either. Here, poetry is a living art.
When I realized that a translated volume of Birhan Keskin's poetry was available in English, I grew curious to know how her work would sound in my mother tongue. I'll admit that I consider English and Turkish nearly incompatible. Their grammars sing different rhythms; their emotive qualities stem from different sources. Translation between the two languages is often a matter of compromise. Nevertheless, I felt the urge to introduce the work of this profound poet to an English-speaking audience by reviewing & Silk & Love & Flame.