Latest News: Posts Tagged ‘istanbul istanbul’

“A novel approach to truth-telling” — ISTANBUL ISTANBUL recommended in the Financial Times

Monday, November 30th, 2020

Istanbul Istanbul features four prisoners held in one of Istanbul’s jails who fill the time between sessions of interrogation and torture by telling each other their stories, reviving memories of coffeehouse conversations.

Read the article here.

Told by the Doctor: The White Dog.” An excerpt from the 2018 ERBD Literature Prize-winning novel ISTANBUL ISTANBUL by BURHAN SÖNMEZ

Wednesday, April 11th, 2018

Burhan Sönmez wins the first European Bank Literature Prize for Istanbul Istanbul

Istanbul Istanbul turns on the tension between the confines of a prison cell and the vastness of the imagination; between the vulnerable borders of the body and the unassailable depths of the mind. This is a harrowing, riveting novel, as unforgettable as it is inescapable” (Dale Peck). Read an excerpt of this award-winning novel below, and, for a limited time, take 40% off Istanbul Istanbul with coupon code EBRD.


© Moyan Brenn


“Uncle Küheylan, did you think this cell was Istanbul? Right now we’re underground, everywhere above us there are streets and buildings. The city stretches from one end of the horizon to the other, even the sky finds it hard to cover its totality. Underground, there’s no difference between east and west, but if you observe the wind above ground it meets the waters of the Bosphorus and you can gaze at the sapphire-colored waves from a hill. If your first view of Istanbul, which your father told you so much about, had been from a ship’s deck instead of inside this cell, you would understand, Uncle Küheylan, that this city does not consist of three walls and an iron door. When people arrive by ship from distance places, the first thing they see are the Princes’ Islands on the right, draped in a cloud of mist. You think those silhouettes are flocks of birds that have landed there to rest. The city walls on the left, which snake along the entire length of the coastline, eventually meet with a lighthouse. As the mist lifts, the colors multiply. You contemplate the domes and the elegant minarets as though you were admiring the wall rugs in your village. When you are engrossed in the picture on a wall rug you imagine a life that you know nothing about is weaving its course without you in another world; well, now a ship is transporting you to the heart of that life. A person consists of the breath he takes during a sigh. Life is not enough, you tell yourself. You think the expanding city, with its city walls on the horizon, its towers and its domes, is a new sky.

“On the deck, the wind snatches up a woman’s red shawl and carries it to the shore ahead of the ship. You dissolve into the crowd and wander through the cobbled streets, just like the shawl. When you arrive at Galata Square in the midst of the cries of street vendors you take a packet of tobacco out of your pocket and roll a cigarette. You watch an old woman advancing slowly along the road, holding a sheep by a lead. A young boy calls out to her, old woman, where are you going with that lead around that dog’s neck? The old woman turns and looks first at the sheep, then at the young boy. You blind boy, you think this sheep is a dog, she says. You walk behind the old woman. A youth walking the opposite direction says the same thing: Old Woman, are you taking your dog for a walk? The old woman turns and looks at her sheep again, grumbling, it’s not a dog, it’s a sheep, have you been drinking this early in the day? A little further ahead someone else calls out, why have you got a lead around that mangy dog’s neck? Then the street becomes deserted and the voices fall silent. When the hunchbacked old woman notices you she asks you, have I lost my mind, Old Man? Have I mistaken a dog for a sheep? Once my mind cleared, the whole world cleared too, all that’s left are you, me, and this poor animal. As the old woman talks you look at the animal on the end of the lead. Do you see a sheep or a dog? You’re afraid that your day in Istanbul that began with doubt will pledge you a lifetime of doubt.

“The old woman slowly walks away, tugging at her lead. You look not at her but at the things around you, at the things created by mankind. Men have built towers, statues, squares, walls that could never have sprouted out of the earth of their own accord. The sea and the earth existed before men, whereas the world of the city was created by men. You understand that the city was born of men, and that it is reliant on them, like water-dependent flowers. As with the beauty of nature, the beauty of cities lies in their existence. Irregular stones become a temple door, broken marble a dignified statue. You think this is why in the city you mustn&rsuqo;t be surprised by sheep being dogs.”

istanbul istanbul cover

“A life-affirming novel of profound humanity and exquisite writing”: ISTANBUL ISTANBUL wins the 2018 EBRD Literature Prize

Wednesday, April 11th, 2018

Istanbul Istanbul, a novel by Burhan Sönmez and translated from Turkish by Ümit Hussein, has won a new international literature prize launched by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD).

The prize, awarded at a ceremony at the Bank’s headquarters in London on 10 April, was created last year by the EBRD, in partnership with the British Council and the London Book Fair (LBF).

The €20,000 prize will be split between the author and translator.

The EBRD Literature Prize champions the literary richness of its regions of operations, which include almost 40 countries from Morocco to Mongolia, Estonia to Egypt. It was also created to illustrate the importance of literary translation and to introduce the depth and variety of the voices and creativity from these regions to a wider global audience.

Read the full story here.

BURHAN SÖNMEZ receives the Vaclav Havel Library Foundation’s “Disturbing the Peace” Award

Friday, September 15th, 2017

Read here.

An excerpt from ISTANBUL, ISTANBUL by BURHAN SÖNMEZ appears at international literary journal Slow Words

Monday, June 5th, 2017

Read it here.

“If you are an author in Turkey you are destined to write about Istanbul sooner or later”: Burhan Sönmez in The Guardian

Thursday, November 17th, 2016

Read the full feature here.

“Burhan Sonmez has written the real Istanbul novel”: ISTANBUL ISTANBUL extract on Scroll.In

Thursday, September 29th, 2016

“Burhan Sonmez has written the real Istanbul novel.”


“It was cold in our cell. While I was telling the Doctor my story, Kamo the Barber lay curled on the bare concrete floor. We had no covers, we warmed ourselves by huddling together, like puppies. Because time had stood still for several days we had no idea if it was day or night. We knew what pain was, every day we relived the horror that clamped our hearts as we were led away to be tortured. In that short interval where we braced ourselves for pain, humans and animals, the sane and the mad, angels and demons were all the same. As the grating of the iron gate echoed through the corridor, Kamo the Barber sat up. ‘They’re coming for me,’ he said.”


Read the full extract from BURHAN SÖNMEZ’s Istanbul Istanbul here.

Turkish author BURHAN SÖNMEZ: “Our society should not be left to anti-democratic politics”

Wednesday, July 27th, 2016

After the failed coup, Burhan Sönmez says there is “no stability in politics [or] social life” in Turkey. Does that mean there’s no hope for the future? Not so fast.

“Both parties are bad. One of them is the army, the other side is the government… The collision of these two forces will not bring democracy to Turkey.”



An excerpt from Burhan Sönmez‘s interview with Deutsche Welle immediately following the attempted coup in Turkey:

Were you surprised by the attempted coup in Turkey?

I was very surprised and I believe the majority of society was surprised with this coup attempt, because the army and the government had been getting along very well with each other on almost every issue. No one expected this.

So how do you explain it suddenly happening then?

That’s the nature of Turkey. There is no stability in politics and in social life, so you can expect anything to happen at any time in society with the army and the government. This unexpected occurrence is just a result of it.

How are you reacting to the aftermath of the events?

What’s worrying is that two evil forces collided with each other last Friday. By evil force, I mean that both parties are bad. One of them is the army, the coup plotters, and the other side is the government, which is not good at applying democratic politics either. The collision of these two forces will not bring democracy to Turkey—so we are very worried.

Now, we have saved the parliamentary system, but that doesn’t mean we have saved the democratic system, because Erdogan is using this to escalate his politics, his personal ambition and his pro-Islam regime. That is worrying for us.

. . .

You have experienced police violence firsthand. Now, just after the coup, more attention is given to the way Erdogan is dealing with his opponents, but the situation has been difficult for many years already. Was there a particular moment when you realized that things were becoming more threatening for freedom of expression in the country?

It is a slow-motion change. For years and years, social media platforms like Twitter have been blocked every now and then. Yesterday, 10 news websites were blocked. They were not even affiliated with Fethullah Gülen. They were left-wing or social democratic news sites. This censorship is not something that will stop at a certain point. It will carry on for years and years. But we will carry on in favor of freedom of speech and democracy.

Your 2015 novel Istanbul Istanbul is about prisoners who try to find relief from the pain of torture through storytelling. Can storytelling inspire us for the future of Turkey?

In that novel, you can see that people are in pain, but they keep their faith in the future, they still have their dreams.

People like me, we’ve believed in this country for years and years. If you ask me if I’ve had a good year in this country, I will tell you, no. Every year has been worse than the previous one. But that means that our hopes are getting bigger than the previous year—otherwise you cannot survive here.

I will tell you something very unrealistic: I am very hopeful for the future of my country, otherwise I would have left. I’m still here; people like me are still standing here. We will carry on our calls for freedom, equality, solidarity, tolerance and also peace. We need these more than ever before. 1


Library Journal also recently reviewed Sönmez’s novel, calling it “A real find; highly recommended”:

Four men inhabit a dank cell in Istanbul: the Doctor; the student Demirtay; troublesome Kamo the Barber; and Uncle Küheylan, an older man from the mountains who has always dreamed deliriously of coming to Istanbul. As they wait tensely for guards to drag out one of them for the next round of torture, they tell one another stories they already know, stories that take them beyond their cell walls to the larger world. From the wily nun who escapes a rapist to hunters trying to undo fate decreed by a fairy, these tales are engrossingly rendered, and they eventually lead to Istanbul itself, fighting to defend its beauty. An award-winning Turkish author and former lawyer, Sönmez spent five years in the UK being treated for injuries sustained in an assault by the Turkish police, and he captures the chill of anticipating torture with quiet authority. But his book is ultimately and persuasively about what imagination can do. 2


istanbul istanbul cover

remembering akbar cover

1 DW Akademie, published 18 July 2016
2 Library Journal, published 8 June 2016

“Some friends of mine couldn’t finish this book.” BURHAN SÖNMEZ featured in The Guide Istanbul

Monday, May 23rd, 2016

“Some friends of mine couldn’t finish this book because they lived the same thing. For most of these people, their stories didn’t have a happy ending.”

To read more, visit The Guide Istanbul.

“It’s actually a long story but I’ll be brief” BURHAN SÖNMEZ excerpted in Bookanista

Friday, April 29th, 2016

“It’s actually a long story but I’ll be brief,” I said. “No one had ever seen so much snow in Istanbul. When the two nuns left Saint George’s Hospital in Karaköy in the dead of night to go to the Church of Saint Anthony of Padua to break the bad news, there were scores of dead birds under the eaves. That April, ice cracked the Judas tree flowers, while the razor-sharp wind bit the stray dogs. Have you ever known it to snow in April, Doctor? It’s actually a long story but I’ll be brief. One of the nuns sliding and stumbling in the blizzard was young, the other old. When they had almost reached the Galata Tower the young nun said to her companion, a man has been following us all the way up the hill. The older nun said there could only be one reason why a man would follow them in a storm in the pitch darkness.”

To read more, visit Bookanista.

“Today I dreamt I was burning” BURHAN SÖNMEZ excerpted in Words Without Borders

Wednesday, April 27th, 2016

““Today I dreamt I was burning,” he said. “I was in the lowest circle of hell, they were taking sticks from everyone else’s fire and using them to stoke mine. But damn it, I was still cold. The other sinners were screaming, my eardrums burst and healed a thousand times over. The fire kept getting bigger and bigger but I couldn’t burn hard enough. You weren’t there, I searched every face, but there was no sign of a doctor or a student. I craved more fire, crying out and begging, like an animal going to the slaughter. The wealthy, the preachers, the bad poets, and cold-hearted mothers burning in front of me stared at me through the flames. The wound in my heart wouldn’t burn and turn to ash, my memory refused to melt into oblivion. Despite the fire that was turning metal to liquid, I could still recall my cursed past.”

To read more, visit Words Without Borders.

“The masterful construction of a multi-story tale” BURHAN SÖNMEZ reviewed by Cultured Vultures

Tuesday, April 19th, 2016

“Sonmez’s novel comes to life – not just as a visceral depiction of pain in captivity, or a Frankl-esque exploration of existential despair – but rather, the artisanal interweaving of narratives; the masterful construction of a multi-story tale.”

To read more, visit Cultured Vultures.

“Words are not up for negotiation.” PEN interviews BURHAN SÖNMEZ

Monday, April 4th, 2016

Where is the line between observation and surveillance?

Observation is a desire to see something beautiful or good, while surveillance represents the desire to find something dreadful and stigmatize it. Writers believe in observation, while governments trust in surveillance. And we writers observe everything, including governments, while goverments keep us under surveillance.

To read the rest of the interview, visit PEN America.

“An engrossing read” Ploughshares reviews ISTANBUL ISTANBUL

Friday, April 1st, 2016

To capture the city so thoroughly though is a feat in and of itself. Just as with Sönmez’s novel, Istanbul defies being pinned down due to its multitudes. Yet Sönmez indelibly captures parts of the city and its inhabitants’ psyche. He describes the curse of “development” in the city that caused “houses …[to] presume to grow vertically in floors and block out the sky” and “square[s to be]… crushed beneath giant shadows” and how most people in the city loved crowds, as that was where “The beauty of the city lay”. Sönmez simply gets what it means to loathe and love the city, which is one large part of what the novel argues makes one an İstanbullu.

To read the rest of the review, visit Ploughshares.

“An imaginative and original book” Hurriyet Daily praises ISTANBUL ISTANBUL

Thursday, March 3rd, 2016

The Decameron is frequently referenced in Burhan Sönmez’s novel “Istanbul Istanbul.” Like in Boccacio’s great work, the characters tell stories to pass the time. Unlike the Decameron, that time is spent in an underground jail cell in Istanbul, where prisoners are held between sessions of extreme torture. Each of the 10 chapters is narrated by one of the inmates, trying to distract themselves from pain and the terror of coming abuse. The exact era in which the book is set is left ambiguous, but it is some point within the last few decades.

To read the rest of the review, visit Hurriyet Daily.

Verified by MonsterInsights