Buket Uzuner: I met Claire Messud in Istanbul in November 2007 while she was visiting the city as one of the guest writers of the Istanbul Book Fair. A week before I met her, I started to read her very recently translated novel, The Emperor’s Children (in Turkish, İmparatorun ocukları); once I realized her novel tells a contemporary story set in New York City, with vivid characters from different generations and classes, and revolves around three protagonists who are delicately analyzed and wittily criticized by this young woman writer, I wanted to write a review. I had some ideas and questions about Claire Messud’s literary work and I was ready to discuss all these with her, but when I met her in person, we talked about the life of a writer, womanhood, motherhood, and women’s issues as a global concern. We met a second time at my studio on the Asian side of Istanbul. That afternoon we talked on—I vividly remember—similar global and local issues, and compared our different cultures and backgrounds.
My review of The Emperor’s Children was published in the book supplement of the daily Radikal (www.radikal.com.tr) on November 23, 2007, and brought many e-mail responses. Claire Messud’s Turkish publisher called the same week to inform me that the review had drawn local attention to this important contemporary American novel.
Meanwhile, I got a six-week scholarship to the Ledig House International Writers’ Residency, at Art Omi in Hudson, New York, last March. I had hoped to see Claire when I was in the U.S., but her schedule did not allow us to meet. But now, thanks to Words Without Borders, I have the great chance to have a literary conversation with Claire Messud, whom I proudly count not only as a good writer but also as my friend.
Claire Messud: Buket, do you see yourself as a Turkish writer, primarily? Or a European writer? A woman writer? Or do you see yourself above all simply as a writer?
BU: I feel myself as all of those, as I am a woman writer who writes in the Turkish language, which is culturally and historically fed by Europe and the Balkans, the Mediterranean and Middle-East, Caucasia and Asia, and melted in a pot for centuries and called “Turkish culture.” This description may sound like a mockery of John Lennon’s “Imagine” (!), but clichés are sometimes true, and I assure you that many Turkish writers and/or artists may define themselves in the same way. Frankly, my aim here is neither to be proud nor modest about the richness and complexity of my cultural heritage; I only want to underline how difficult it is to categorize the Turkish culture according to clear-cut borders, and to open a different view on debates about where East ends and West starts. Yet such categorizations are artificially made in many cases, and do not have actual bases in reality, and have created a cultural identity problem here for many generations. I have always believed different cultures can live together if the power (political and economic) will let them; the Ottomans, who were people of different cultures, managed it for six hundred years.
On the other hand I choose to define myself as a “woman writer” in many cases, even though I was against being called one when I published my first book. The awareness of gender for a literary writer became important for me when I discovered the limits of language, in other words the gender of language and the invisibly wired, female-proof(!) “intellectual Eden of male writers.” Well, maybe this is too cynical, but the “intellectual male fortress” is an international phenomenon, and one can smell it stronger in countries like Turkey where male ingredients and chauvinistic components are heavy and a sexist ethic has been regenerated by practice and custom for centuries. When I first published my literary work as a young woman in the 70s and 80s, nobody directly refused my work because of my gender. On the contrary, I was most welcomed as a young woman writer, but my work—like that of other women writers—was considered work of “female sensibility,” a fashionable term of the day, and code for a soft perception of literary matters. Just because the writer was not a young man! That’s how I started to discover I was a woman writer! I have always thought a writer was a writer but maybe I should recall Simone de Beauvoir, who mentioned in her great book The Second Sex that “we were not born as women but we learn to be women.” Consequently, when Orhan Pamuk’s books are read by mass numbers of women, he is taken as an attractive male writer (and to be sure, he is a good-looking man, and a dear friend), but when the same women booklovers read my books, or those of other women writers, it is taken as less of an intellectual activity, and labeled “woman’s work, read by mostly women,” something light—unimportant cultural events between women. But don’t you think female fiction had a similar fate in Europe a century ago or so? Well, I’ve talked too much, now maybe you can tell me, how do you feel about the same issue, Claire; do you consider yourself a writer or a woman writer?
CM: It’s a perennial question, isn’t it? I think when one is writing—or certainly when I’m writing–gender doesn’t enter into it in any conscious way at all. I feel strongly that I’m a writer above all, and I have sympathy with the American poet Elizabeth Bishop who, many years ago, didn’t want to be included in any anthologies of “women poets” because, as she said, she was a “poet,” not a “woman poet.” But I, too, am aware of the broader responses of the culture, and the challenges that women writers face—not in being read; after all, the majority of fiction readers are women—but in being taken seriously. It seems to me that the attributes that are valued by so-called highbrow literary culture tend to be attributes that are most frequently associated with male writing, and in particular with matters of style. Derrida wrote about this—style and the phallus—in Eperons, if I’m not mistaken. Reading the recent obituaries of David Foster Wallace—whose tragic suicide is a tremendous loss to American letters and to the entire literary world—I was struck by the repeated use of words like “genius,” “mastery,” and so on. It’s almost impossible to imagine such words being used about a woman writer, however eminent. Obviously, any such statement is a generalization, but I’d say that women stylists tend to be less showy, less insistent on their authorial presence, than men. There’s an idea of what a literary stylist is, and it’s a very male idea. Think of Saul Bellow, or Philip Roth, or, among younger writers, Junot Díaz, or Dave Eggers or Jonathan Lethem or David Foster Wallace—all of them are, as stylists, the opposite of transparent. They make their presences felt. Whereas most eminent women writers tend to be quieter stylists—think of Jane Austen or George Eliot, of Katharine Mansfield or Eudora Welty, of Alice Munro or Penelope Fitzgerald. There’s some idea that women are quiet observers, seeing everything from the sidelines, and men are out there, naked in the storm.
This dichotomy may be changing; the world, thank God, does evolve, and a notion of style that has been traditionally a male province is, I think, opening up—think of Zadie Smith’s White Teeth, or the fiction of Anne Enright—but it is certainly still in play. And often when women are strong stylists in that traditionally male way—writers like Lydia Davis, say, or Nathalie Sarraute, to take two radically different examples—it seems that they are greatly admired and not widely read. They aren’t, somehow, what is expected. What’s expected is, as you say, some softer sensibility, with less ambitious preoccupations. How much this is a reality and how much it is a perception of reality, who can say; but certainly I’m aware that insofar as I am a “woman writer,” it is on account of society’s perception and not on account of what’s in my head.
I think that Virginia Woolf had it right, that it will take a long time until it’s possible for women writers not to be warped by the cultural experience of being women. We’ve come a long way since she wrote A Room of One’s Own, but we’ve a long way to go yet. Isn’t it true that any one of us would just like to be a “writer,” plain and simple? Isn’t that how any one of us thinks of ourselves?
CM: Buket, What are your primary literary influences? Do you consider yourself part of a group or generation, in any way; and if so, what might that group or generation be?
BU: I grew up mostly with French, Russian and Turkish literature, which were the dominating cultural references in the cultural geography of the 60s and 70s. Classical and twentieth-century French, Russian and Turkish literature meant good writing and in some way surrealism, existentialism and lots of social realism came to be influences for my generation. It was almost a sin(!) not to read, for example: Dostoevsky, Chekhov, Kafka, Hesse, Aragon, Hugo, Sartre, some Anglo-Saxon writers, like Woolf (exceptionally, from England), some American writers like Steinbeck, Hemingway, Arthur Miller, and some Turkish writers like Yaşar Kemal and Nazim Hikmet. Theater was a very important literary art, and I had the great chance to see the best pieces from Shakespeare to Beckett, George Bernard Shaw to Goethe, Brecht to Lillian Hellman, Melih Cevdet Anday to Nazim Hikmet in my teen years in Ankara (the capital city), where the National Theater and Ballet had a very strong cultural influence.
There were different and legendary literary groupings in Turkey in the 40s and 50s. The latest political wave was in the 60s, made up by the so-called “romantic revolutionary generation,” of those born in 1948. This intense socialist intellectual movement had a strong impact on Turkish literature through social realism, which affected following generations, including me. Chronologically, I belong to the 78 generation, which always sounded very artificial to me because my generation was, and is, more individualistic than the older ones; no group psychology, no brotherhood/sisterhood ties like the 68 generation. Personally I don’t belong to any group, and find my own literary work quite independent, avant-garde, dark-humoristic, and satiric, never aiming to educate or enlighten the reader. I can say that I was most fascinated by surrealism, the visual arts, cinema and painting in my youth, and therefore, the visual aspects of my literary work are strong, I think. I should mention that the Latin American magical realism wave in the 1980s was a great excitement for me. I find that both surrealism and magical realism have connections with old Turkish culture in the multicultural and mystical tendencies they share with its Anatolian and pagan (shamanistic) background. Can you tell me about your primary literary influences, Claire?
CM: It’s always interesting to ask the question, because one can never ultimately say which writers have had the greatest influence. I’ve had so many literary passions, many of them very, very different from one another; and who can say how they have got mixed up in my head, or which ones have lasted and have influenced my writing and which are merely literary figures I admire but don’t directly draw upon? I don’t really know. In truth, I know that even the books I read as a child formed me—I recently read Eric Linklater’s Wind on the Moon aloud to my children, and it was a book I remembered loving passionately as a child, but could have told you nothing about. In rereading it, so many years later, I discovered that all sorts of jokes that had entered into my childhood world, and perceptions that I thought had been my own, actually came from that novel. It was the strangest thing.
My senior-year English class in high school was a time and place of tremendous literary revelation for me. The reading list was put together by our teacher without any apparent cohesion, and yet for me it was a succession of books each of which was like a little explosion in my brain— “you can write like this? You can say this? You can do it this way? Who knew?!” We read Tolstoy’s Death of Ivan Ilych, Dostoevksy’s Notes from Underground, Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, Walker Percy’s Moviegoer, Woolf’s To the Lighthouse—plus Shakespeare, of course. Always Shakespeare. But that introduction to Woolf, and to the Russians—I’d have to say the Russians have, since then, been vitally important to me. Tolstoy, Dostoevksy, Chekhov—all so different, but each essential to my understanding of the world. And then I had a long period, in my late adolescence, of being immersed in Faulkner; and long and abiding passions for Henry James and Proust.
But I also love Beckett, and the Austrian writer Thomas Bernhard, and Italo Svevo’s Zeno’s Conscience is one of my lifelong favorites. Like you, I’m a lover of the tragicomic. I was smitten, at university, with Jane Bowles—Jane rather than Paul—and wrote my senior thesis on Two Serious Ladies. And then there’s Thomas Mann—I read The Magic Mountain as a teenager, and it was, for me, like those books I read in my senior English class, transforming; but I didn’t actually read Buddenbrooks till I was in my late twenties, and that was a revelation of a different sort, and almost a relief. Buddenbrooks was very much in my mind years later, when I wrote my last novel, The Emperor’s Children.
And Flaubert—how to disregard the influence of Flaubert? And so on, and so on—Alice Munro, Peter Carey, Theodor Fontane, V. S. Naipaul, Lorrie Moore, Norman Rush, Lydia Davis, W. G. Sebald, Toni Morrison, Orhan Pamuk, Tahar Ben Jelloun—all these unrelated writers and so many more have captivated and inspired and electrified me, have made me see the world differently, anew, and have made me believe again and again (as one has to) that the literary endeavor is worth it . . . but I can’t really say whether they are influences, or how they are influences.
And then, of course, music and art, they, too, are influences, and where to begin there? As you can see, Buket, I just end up listing a bunch of stuff I love. So is what I loved at fifteen more influential, somehow, than what I love at forty-one? Or is the most influential work what you love the whole way along (because there are things I can’t read with the same joy or excitement that I once did; and there are, by the same account, things I would surely not have loved as I do had I read them too early in life)? I don’t know the answer to that.
BU: It is fascinating to share the cultural climates we were born in and their impact on our works. Maybe we can talk about how you relate to your fellow contemporary American writers? Is there a strong sense of literary community in the US today, or are your primary literary conversations with people in other places?
CM: Again, this question that should be simple doesn’t feel easy to answer. I’ve always been an outsider—we moved around a great deal when I was growing up, and I was always the new kid, the kid from somewhere else, which may explain this feeling—and that feeling has continued into my writing life. I think that experience is one of the motivating factors in my having a writing life at all. I’m always wondering whether I’m actually American enough to be considered an American writer. I’m Canadian, and I’m French, as well as being American. I just don’t fit in anywhere very well.
Naïvely, I imagine that there are tight literary circles to which many of my peers belong, in which writers meet and talk about matters literary over coffee or drinks until the small hours of the morning. That certainly isn’t my experience. I have friends who are writers, but they are scattered and aren’t, necessarily, friends with one another. I have, above all, my husband, who is a literary critic and novelist and is as passionate about literature as a vocation and calling as I am—and we talk a great deal about literature and writing. That said, we’re also talking a lot about grocery shopping and child-rearing—that’s just life. The moments when I’m privileged enough to have literary conversations of the sort you and I had in Istanbul—they are fewer and more rare than I’d imagined, growing up, that they might be.
The truth about the literary community in America today is that it’s very dispersed. That’s a good and a bad thing—partly it’s dispersed because there are so many writers, in so many places, with different interests, ambitions and backgrounds; but partly, too, there is a general indifference in the culture, an irrelevance, that we’re all battling against, and sometimes that battle can feel solitary. I’ve lived the past five years in Boston, and here have found a community of writers and thinkers that I wouldn’t say I’m deeply involved with, but would say, rather, that I have the privilege of encountering; and after many years in a literary wilderness, that has been a great gift. But it doesn’t at all feel as though there are schools, or groups, to which I have access. As I mentioned earlier, I imagine they exist—in Brooklyn, largely, in my imagination—whether that’s true or not. Isn’t a certain outsider-ness part of being a writer? I imagine that all writers, or most, think there’s a literary party going on to which everyone but they themselves have been invited. If we didn’t all think that way, we wouldn’t spend our time writing.
And how about you Buket, how do you relate to your fellow contemporary Turkish writers? Is there a strong sense of literary community in Turkey?
BU: There used to be a strong sense of literary community in Turkey. Being a writer still meant to be intellectual, and indicated a genuine involvement with world affairs during my early years on the literature scene (in the 1980s), but not anymore. Literary writers were sophisticated and charismatic characters then, but since 2000, fame and money have become more important elements for a writer—not only here unfortunately, but in many other countries too. Recently, most young writers are interested in becoming best sellers as soon as possible. This is an urgent wish! Fame has became the most important motivation for writing fiction: to extend Andy Warhol, now everybody wants to be famous even for fifteen minutes! Yet many people think that their lives have the most important stories worth reading! What a tragic fantasy! Most young writers do not read much, and are not interested in the philosophical and aesthetic aspects of writing, do not care what other writers wrote about and so on . . . This may be because of the visual attacks and aggressive visual showers of our global culture, which affect younger generations. Words versus Images! For my part, I believe words are more provocative and revolutionary than images. An image brings immediate, 3-D, concrete objects and items to mind and can easily play with the truth in the same way. As Noam Chomsky mentions many times in his talks, an image does not provoke thinking, and creates “approval-producing crowds,” while words wake up thinking! I am one of those who feel uneasy for the future world in humanitarian terms, but you could say that we don’t have a wonderful record for words either, in our two thousand years of world history!
BU. How about your thoughts on words versus images, Claire?
CM: I’m not entirely sure I know how to answer this one, Buket. Are you asking about whether words are still relevant? I know, for example, that one of the accusations recently leveled against Barack Obama by the members of the Republican party is that he is “a man of words,” as if that were a bad thing. As if words were some obsolete and precious form of communication—which is utterly terrifying. I have to believe we haven’t reached that point yet!
Or are you asking about the challenge that all of us face, as writers; that conveying things through words is a linear process, rather than an immediate one? You can look at a picture and take it in all at once, but to describe that picture you have to use many sentences, and a reader’s apprehension of that image will take place over time—it’s something quite different. And sometimes it’s a problem; sometimes that inherent slowness gets in the way. On the other hand, upon occasion it’s a blessing. There are things that words accomplish that images simply cannot. In our image-saturated era there is still—or perhaps now more than ever—a place for words, for literature. There is a subtlety, a complexity of thought and experience that words can at least attempt to address. I often think of Wittgenstein saying that “anything that can be said, can be said clearly. Anything that cannot be said clearly, cannot be said.” That’s the writer’s challenge: to try to say the most complicated things as clearly as possible. To say what is at the very margins of the sayable, what hasn’t yet been said, or to say it in a new way. And there are so many different ways of addressing that challenge, from a Proustian or Jamesian approach, that attempts to include every digression of thought, to the clipped, Hemingwayesque, or Carveresque approach, that attempts to distill that complexity as meaningfully as possible. The very possibility is still profoundly exciting to me, which means I haven’t given up yet.
The greatest challenge today for those of us who work in words, I think, is the matter of time. Readers—those who would still consider themselves readers, and there are ever fewer of us, in an age in which it is no longer shameful not to be a reader—are impatient. But reading, especially reading something complex and challenging, takes time. It takes effort, and thought. The gratification is not immediate. And we’ve all become accustomed to immediate gratification. Again, each writer confronts this in a different way; and some choose simply to disregard the facts; but it does put all of us who write up against the near-certainty of irrelevance, at some level. Such splendid irrelevance makes our endeavors free, which is a good thing; but often that doesn’t seem, in this time, in this country at least, to lead to radical experimentation or innovation or even, alas, great seriousness. There’s a risk that as writers we may try to pander to the impatient reader; and then, I think, we risk losing the core of what makes literature matter in spite of everything.
CM: Buket, I want to know your idea, what do you think: Is literature global, in this day and age?
BU: Well… Such a delicate and important question Claire! The right answers to this question can be a resource for solving the world’s conflicts, since literature has strong attachments with cultures but alas, politicians have never listened to literary writers! In my opinion, culture is global, as is literature. Starting with the main character of social life and literature, the human, is the key to our question. Hence I look for humans’ common instinct to survive, their instinct for happiness and sadness, anger and joy, fear and security, etc. . . . As we know, the expression of feelings is quite similar in every culture, and basically we all write about the same things: love and death! The hope of being loved unconditionally, the joy of sex, freedom and the fear of the unknown: death. All these human feelings and manners form the basis of literature, yet the way we express these common human feelings and thoughts differs in various cultures. Literature starts with local (national) elements but ends on the global (universal) level. This is one of the important concepts I give to the young Turkish readers/college students whom I give speeches to and have readings with in local universities in Anatolia. Very often, I suggest to them that whatever they create, or do, the local elements must play the primary role in their work, but in the end when the work is completed, the ethic and aesthetic values must meet with qualities that are universal. I don’t know if you agree with me?
CM: Yes, that’s something I’ve often talked about with students: the need, in writing, to attain the universal through the specific. There’s no other way, really. You have to be specific and concrete in the worlds that you write about—whether they’re contemporary or historical, realistic or imagined—and only through that specificity can you hope to reach towards the shared human elements that you’re talking about.
That said, I’ve been struck upon occasion by the vast diversity of cultures, by the different roles that literature plays in different moments or under different regimes. I became friends with an Albanian writer some years ago, who had been formed under the Communist regime, and his understanding of literature was very different from mine—it was supremely political and allegorical—he had had to write obliquely, and he felt compelled to be strongly political. He was really interested, above all, in social structures, in political structures, and in imagining their possible shifts, like the shifting of tectonic plates. A writer like Henry James had no meaning or relevance for him—James seemed frivolous, silly. That was the result of his cultural and historical circumstances. Whereas for me, with my American and European backgrounds, the individual and psychological motivations are paramount—I’m extremely interested in character, in why people do the things that they do. And I realized that that, too, is culturally very specific, an interest that is the luxurious product of the societies that have formed my psyche. Is literature global, then? Yes, and no.
CM: What is your relationship to the political debates in contemporary Turkey? Do you consider your work political? Does a writer, as a public figure, have a political responsibility?
BU: Writing is a political activity after all, don’t you think? Even the most apolitical text contains the writer’s ideas, beliefs and views about life, sex and religion, and all these are the elements of politics. That’s why any Turkish writer who writes about anything connected about our culture she or he involves gets our “weak stomach” involved, which has been one of the main problems for about two hundred years, and which started much before the first constitution of the Ottoman Empire (1876). It is the identity problem of Turkish culture! Are we Western or Eastern? Was the Ottoman Empire “the sick man” of Europe or Asia? Identity is really important, but more important than this is to remember that the borders between cultures and countries were not drawn by the prophets or divine angels. Cultures are versatile, with migration, and none of the walls between cultures has successfully cut the link between people. On the other hand, culture is not flexible enough that we resist being brain washed to kill “the others” in the name of nation, religion and so-called honor! Oh honor! We Turkish people are one of the rare cultures who raise toasts not to health or happiness, but to honor! (By the way: Turkish culture is the only Islamic culture which has a tradition of drinking, as far as I know!) So, we toast for honor, then we kill our daughters, wives and mothers for honor! So “honor” here still means the female body and its sexual control by males. Well . . . Hence I insist that words have a stronger power over the nerves than concepts, I guess! Words are still stronger than the sword, I believe.
CM: Is it dangerous to take on a political role? Is it possible to avoid politics?
BU: Yes it is dangerous to write against “Turkishness” and Islam in Turkey, even in the twenty-first century. The very conservative Islamic AKP government in power, which claimed to be a guardian of freedoms before it was elected, focuses only on freedoms related to Islamic codes, but is unconcerned with abolishing, for example, Code 301, which is against freedom of speech? We still have journalists and writers in jail in Turkey today, and unfortunately Turkey is one of the countries most affected by the global conservatism wave which Mr. Bush, Ms. Merkel, Mr. Sarkozy, Mr. Blair, Mr. Berlusconi, and Mr. Putin represent worldwide! The Islamic codes are getting more visible and gaining in legal sanction which is scary for a country like Turkey where theocracy was once in power for centuries. Therefore the religious custom of the double headscarf (in Turkish, a turban) is an Islamic code and anyone who has a background in history gets uneasy with it herself. Ask any German about the (Nazi) swastika and see how they feel about it! The Turkish do not have the Germans’ strong reaction against the Nazi symbol because Nazism was not in his/her cultural heritage. You know what I mean? The symbols are more important where they have historical links. Conservative, male-dominated powers/governments and political parties are very similar around the world and their main target is 1) to control a woman’s body (abortion and /or headscarves, polygamy for men, etc.) and 2) to control freedom of speech. Overall, their aim is to uniform the country (what headscarves create, in the end, is uniformed women, no individualism, no freedom to be different!) which makes them tyrannical for sure. So I believe that one cannot excuse herself from politics if she is a writer, even of fiction, because writers are the mirrors of their own time/eras and while you have problems with freedom of speech around you, your fictitious characters, who might be Romans or American Indians, nevertheless must still talk about the freedom of consciousness, and secularism of course! As Edward Said maintained in his late talks, I also believe the solution for the human race is in secular humanism. Humanism sounds like a game of the flower-children of the 60s, but secular humanism includes all different beliefs, and we need to keep all beliefs in the circle, but at an equal distance. That makes Islam as valuable as Christianity and Buddhism and Judaism, but in all, the same distance from women’s rights over their own bodies, freedom of thinking, freedom of writing, freedom of expression . . .
CM: Buket, when you meet your readers, do you feel that they understand what you are trying to achieve in your work? Do you have a sense, when you’re writing, of who you are writing for?
BU: Or am I one of those lucky writers who meets her/his real reader? Well . . . Sometimes, very rarely, yes! I of course do not expect all my readers to read my novels with an awareness of intertextuality or with a knowledge of stream-of-consciousness, or to be able to read different layers of the story, but when they ask “who is who” in my novels I get really nervous. As I told you when you were in Istanbul, this may be because the novel as a literary genre did not start as early in Turkey as it did in Europe. Turkish literature and the art of letters has a very strong and poetic background. Early novels started in the late nineteenth century and maybe that’s why people still mix real and fictitious characters?
CM: It’s fascinating to discuss these similarities and differences with you. Our experiences are in so many ways the same, and yet in so many ways vastly different. The comparative novelty of the novel, in Turkish culture–the fact that there is such a long literary tradition of bellettristic prose, say, but that the novel itself is so recent—is so different from an American culture, in which there is virtually no literary tradition that predates the novel; the novel has always been part of our culture, since there was an American culture—these elements have to affect the ways in which we approach our task as writers. And yet it seems that above all, and finally, we share more than what separates us. We share common literary passions, and common goals, and a common faith in the written word and its power.
In my brief but wonderful visit to Turkey, I had such a strong sense that literature genuinely matters there, and that the very aspects that make writing dangerous—the imprisonment and even murder of literary figures—give writers a focus for your commitment and passion. In the United States, many of us are committed and passionate—committed to literature, to the joy of words—and yet not always sure how that commitment fits into the broader culture. We have much to learn from you. Of course the irony is that your literary endeavor is to ensure that you, and all your compatriots, will have the freedoms that we already enjoy!
The degree to which writing is political in this country is often so oblique as to be invisible—even though, as you say, all writing is perforce political. And even in matters of gender, race and social class, where freedoms have not, in truth, been fully achieved, there is not a sense that the political discussion is overt in literature. (My seven-year-old has been reading a series of books about a little girl called Ramona. They were written over twenty years ago, and the family in which Ramona is growing up struggles because they don’t have enough money. I realize that none of the contemporary books she reads addresses this issue straight-out: it’s not fashionable. Things have changed, in this country; a great deal in a short time.)
But as ever, I’m digressing: what I want to say above all is how thrilling it is to have such a conversation, and to have it with you; to hear even a little about the shape of the literary world in your experience, and in your country; and to recognize, as you say, that we share so much. The human, as you so rightly put it, is what it’s all about. And the human transcends borders, and cultures. And to insist upon living an examined life—that’s the writer’s imperative. It’s not only a personal endeavor, but one essential to our cultures, whether Turkish or American or any other culture. It’s important to do it, even if very few people are paying attention; and it’s important to do it when political forces are paying all too much attention. It’s important, tout court.
Thank you so much, Buket, for your thoughts and experiences, and for the time you have spent sharing them here.