Between Fiction and Reality

Esmahan Aykol is one of Turkey's most popular writers. And she also has a loyal readership abroad – her heroine is a German bookseller on the trail of murderers in Istanbul. Aygül Cizmecioglu read her latest novel, "Goodbye Istanbul"

Esmahan Aykol (photo: Samuel Mizrachi / Diogenes Verlag)
Esmahan Aykol: Turkish bestselling author (photo: Samuel Mizrachi / Diogenes Verlag)

​​For eight years, Esmahan Aykol has been going to and fro between two poles: Istanbul and Berlin. She first came to Berlin to study law. Now the attractive young writer spends half the year in Istanbul, and the other half in Berlin's Kreuzberg district. Detective fiction is her great passion. Her crime novels "Baksheesh" and "Hotel Bosporus" earned her a place on Turkey's bestseller charts.

Aykol's new book "Goodbye Istanbul" is not about murder. This time, the novel deals with homesickness. "You always miss the other city," says
Aykol. "I always say I live in Istanbul and write in Berlin!"

And the author shares that life between countries and cultures with Ece, the heroine of "Goodbye Istanbul". A young woman runs away from a failed love affair to London.

Broken dreams

She's looking for a new beginning, set free from the old constraints of home and the pain of the past. But the land of her dreams turns out to be an illusion. The photos her friends sent her of their luxurious lives in England are lies, posed in front of other people's villas. And Ece ends up washing dishes in a cheap restaurant.

"The real subject of all my books is migration," says Aykol. "Maybe that's because my parents are emigrants." Aykol's father comes from Macedonia, her grandmother is from Bulgaria. "Emigrants see a country differently than people who grew up there. I find that position as an outsider in both cultures very interesting."

Perhaps that's why Esmahan Aykol hasn't made her heroine a designated loser, but equipped her with a cutting eye for detail.

Ece is an observer who dissects, filters and categorises the world around her. In an almost sober tone, she describes how young Turkish women squeeze into trousers that are much too tight for them, just to look more "English". Or what it's like to be locked away inside a foreign language with one's own thoughts.

Contrast to dull everyday life

To escape this tough world, Ece sets out on a journey through time: wondrous tales her grandfather once told her form a glittering chain, a glamorous contrast to her dull everyday life in London.

​​"This narrative tradition was an important part of Ottoman culture – oral literature," Aykol explains, adding: "The Kurds and the Armenians still have that culture. They travel from one village to the next and tell stories. I wanted to reawaken that narrative tradition in my book."

Esmahan Aykol has created a world where the borderline between fiction and reality gradually dissolves. What is truth and what is lie? And it's precisely here that the writer adds a pinch of prejudice and cliché – oppressed women, scrounging foreigners – only to exaggerate our assumptions to the point of the ridiculous in the very next moment.

"I ran up against all these clichés when I started my degree here in Germany," Aykol comments. "For example talking to my lecturers at university. When they first saw me they didn't think I was Turkish because I don't wear a headscarf. And they were shocked. Then came the stupid questions: Oh, you're Turkish? But you're presumably from the Christian minority, aren't you?! I found that very upsetting."

For Esmahan Aykol, writing is a chance to do away with this type of lazy cliché. Her language is unpretentious, clear, sometimes with a hint of carelessness. Yet her latest novel is more serious, with slightly less of the up-tempo humour and warm-heartedness of her previous books.

Aygül Cizmecioglu

© Deutsche Welle/ 2008

Esmahan Aykol: "Savrulanlar", Merkez Kitaplar, Istanbul 2006

"Goodbye Istanbul", trans.: Antje Bauer, Diogenes Verlag, Zurich 2007

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