It’s Hard to Finish.

This interview with Efe Balıkçıoğlu of Imprint Press, dedicated to “bringing lesser-known but brilliant Turkish authors of all forms and eras into English,” is a couple of years old, and unfortunately the publisher appears to have gone under since then (there’s a note at the end saying “Imprint became part of Koç University Press in 2015,” but the only trace of it online is this interview as far as I can tell), but there’s a lot of interesting material, including this (presumably unrealized) project:

Our next title is a Kitab-ül Hiyel (The book of ingenious devices) by İhsan Oktay Anar, a post-modern novel about Ottoman bureaucracy and innovation in mechanics. The author wrote the text in 16th-century Ottoman, which is very funny. The language itself is very well-researched, but we had to find many people to translate it. […] His novels are intellectualised, but at the same time he’s smart enough to find ways within the language where a good Turkish reader who doesn’t have any knowledge of Arabic and Persian words could understand it. So it’s a pseudo-16th century Ottoman.

An equivalent book in Russian might be Elena Kolyadina’s 2009 Tsvetochny krest [Flower cross] set in 1674, written in a pastiche of the language of the period. But this is the bit I liked most (and which Trevor quoted when he sent me the link):

Is there any particular writer or poet who you’d love to translate?

Yes, there was this poet called Mustafa Irgat. […] He idolised the poet Ece Ayhan, who was a sort of anarchist, never had a home, lived in other people’s houses, made a couple of them commit suicide, had a bad influence, basically was a kind of a leech. And Mustafa Irgat, all of his life, became a disciple to this guy, and never had a house, lived in hotel rooms. He never finished a poem all of his life. There were poems that he edited so much that they turned into very different poems, work that he would start in 1972 or ’73 and then work on until his death in 1994 or 1995. And there were still poems unfinished. He has around thirty poems and thousands of notes. Before he died of cancer, they forced him to publish whatever he had, and these thirty poems that he had been editing for over twenty something years were published. For five years Güntan looked over all the leftovers of Mustafa Irgat, pieces written on pieces of scrap paper, or on napkins, and then he did a second book of poetry.

There are whole poems written in these notes?

Yes. And the name of the book is It’s hard to finish, which was a note that Mustafa Irgat took for himself in one of the poems. Hard to finish. I want to translate that guy.

Thanks, Trevor!


  1. Not having read any Turkish literature, which sounds boring after reading Turkish Language Reform: A Catastrophic Success, this interview inspires me to take another look. I never suspected that Turkey had such depth in culture and literature.

    Turkey is unfortunate in its positioning: half in the European world half out, Middle Eastern but not quite, and modernised enough to lack the call of the exotic. It certainly lacks the allure of the bookish culture of the Far East. The fact that there was such a world of books in Turkey came as quite a surprise.

  2. Yes, it’s something we don’t get told about much. (I was similarly surprised to discover the immense variety and subtlety of Turkish cuisine, which I had vaguely thought of as sort of like Greek food.) Thanks for coming to the aid of this forlorn post!

  3. David Marjanović says

    Döner macht schöner!

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