Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Elif Shafak's Journey between Languages

Most of you might know how strongly I always objected to people saying that one can only write in his or her own native or first language. I am now so relieved to read Elif Shafak's column of 17 March. For those of you who cannot read Turkish, I would like to share some of her views here. Shafak starts her article explaining how people like to ask her why she is writing in English, and even sometimes argue that by writing in English, she becomes a writer of English language literature. "It isn't so!" she says and argues that today, when so many people are living and growing up and get educated in different languages, live in different countries, move so much, we shouldn't put people into such narrow categories. Elif Shafak is writing both in English and in Turkish, not only is this important for the author, but it is for the reader. I don't feel the same when I read her work when the original version is English (like The Bastard of Istanbul or The Saint of Incipient Insanities) or Turkish (like Mahrem or Bit Palas). I always prefer to read books in their original written language, the same goes when I watch movies. Whenever possible, I prefer the original version. And in case of Elif Shafak's work, I can join her in the journey between languages because luckily, I understand both Turkish and English. I sometimes have more trouble understanding Shafak's work in Turkish because she uses a very elaborate vocabulary with many ancient Turkish words (I love to learn by the way!). And this is what I love about her work, this "journey between languages" as she likes to put it. It is also a journey for her readers, at least it is for me.

Her last novel published in Turkey and in Turkish, Ask (pronounced "Ashk", meaning "Love") is the example of such an adventurous and passionate journey. Shafak has written the novel in English and had it translated into Turkish by Kadir Yiğit Uz. Then she reworked on the Turkish version, so in a sense, Ask "has been written again". In her column, Shafak also fairly explains that it isn't an easy task for a writer to express him or herself in a different language and that it would simply be madness if one wouldn't simply love working like that. She offers a wide range of examples of writers who have been writing in different languages and in languages which aren't their first, like Nabokov, Beckett, or Conrad (whose English Virginia Woolf heavily criticized). Well yes, they are all among the best writers of the 20th century so no doubt that were successful.

I am fascinated by languages and I myself speak five. I do certainly not master them all the same way but all of them open different doors of the world to me, make me experience different cultures, teach me different visions and ways of life, and offer me such a wide range of possibilities to express myself. So I think I do know what Elif Shafak is sharing with her readers and I do applaud her for the way she shakes herself, her readers and literature to its very core.

Elif Shafak's column in the Newspaper Zaman appears twice a week.

Saturday, March 14, 2009


I've been to Birmingham for a couple of days last week and was quite impressed by the city. I've only heard very negative things about it, not less than "Birmingham sucks" "It's boring!" or more simply: "There's nothing in Birmingham!" So maybe I was impressed because I had very low expectations, but still, I do think it's a pretty city.

Birmingham has been through great changes in the last few years. And having such a young and diverse population must help the city being dynamic and full of creativity.

If you ever go to Birmingham, try to wander around and look at the nice buildings and definitely stop by the Waterstones bookstore on 128 New Street, whether it's for the books or the building itself.

Photos: Statue on Victoria Square, inside Waterstones, Facade of Waterstones on 123 New Street

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Inspired by Amy Güth

American author, editor, festival founder Amy Güth has posted a very fun video on her blog: "About my Shoes" I love reading her posts and if I could find her novel Three Fallen Women (out of print) I would certainly read that too. If I go to Chicago, I'll sure try to attend one of her events. This post is to tell Amy that I also like taking pictures of my shoes everywhere! Here are some:

My shoes in Lubeck:
My shoes in Sevilla:

My shoe in Granada:
Vive les shoes!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

What's in a name?

Is one's whole identity in a name? What does it say about where one comes from? Does it say anything about where one goes? Would one be different if named differently? Does one try to escape their identity by using a pen name? I'm sure you all would have different answers to these questions. I have some I'd like to share. Many people who know me as Canan ask me where the name Ayse come from? Well... Ayse is actually my first name and it appears on my passport , driver's licence, identity card, my diplomas, and therefore on my plane tickets, bank cards, on my door bell. Canan has been amputated by officials and only appears as a C. on all these documents. Most people call me Canan because it's how my parents and friends have been calling me for the last 29 years. And for 29 years my name has been transformed to Conan, Chanan, Shanan, Kanaan and so on. I always felt I had a different name outside Turkey. The pronunciation was changing with the geography where it was spoken. The closest to the Turkish pronounciation would be Janan or even Jaanan. I only bother correcting people when they pronounce K, but I don't mind if the J becomes CH or SH. Some friends and colleagues call me Ayse, and most people only need to pronounce my name once, so I never correct the latter bunch. The correct pronounciation would sound Ayshe.... so if you chose to call me Ayse...
Does my name cover my whole identity? Thank God no! It helps understanding my history, it says where my name comes from, and one can guess where I or my family might come from too. As for where I go and how I'd be going if I had another name, I cannot say. I am just happy I have two names I love and that belong to me, because both have been offered to me by my parents.
Since I moved to the Netherlands, it got even easier to avoid the confusion: on all official paperwork you're only asked to write down your "Hoofdletter", the first letter of your surnames. Happy me, I'm now A.C.! My name journey will never end, fortunately.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Books & Brussels

One of my favorite activities when in Brussels is to wander in bookstores. Not that there are none in Amsterdam (there are plenty and very high quality bookstores like Athenaeum Boekhandel), it's just that I miss being surrounded by books written in French when I enter a bookstore. Athenaeum has a fairly good section of French speaking books and I can always order online. But I still love going to a bookstore, seeing what's new, discovering some jewel of a book chosen by the employees that month, or just touching the hard and paper back covers, opening and going through the pages. So last week I've been to Tropismes for the wide choice of fiction, theatre and poetry, to Brüsel for the graphic novels and comic books but also the very nice gallery, and although impersonal and too big I've been to FNAC (avoid the place on Saturday!) because of the wide space. Here are some titles I've bought during my visits:
"Entre les murs" by François Bégaudeau (you will certainly know the adaptation to cinema from Laurent Cantet: "The Class"), "De cendres et de fumées" by Philippe Blasband and "Pyongyang" by Quebecois graphic novelist Guy Delisle. Other acquisitions are translated works: "Le Dieu Manchot" by José Saramago, "Le voyage dans le passé" by Stefan Zweig and two mangas: "The Outsider" by Gou Tanaber and"Le Champ de l'arc-en-ciel/Nijigahara Holograph" by Inio Asano.

My hunger for books has been satiated during my stay in Brussels. The Brussels Book Fair began when I was still there! I've spoken to some authors, discovered new publishing houses, listened to Enki Bilal talk about his new work ANIMAL'Z , lied to Joseph Joffo about willing to buy one of his books but claiming I needed to go to the ATM (I have read "A Bag of Marbles" in high school and didn't want to buy old fashioned editions of his books - but there's no excuse, I feel bad, I shouldn't lie!), discovered the work of Karin Tuil during her talk and listened to interviews of authors on the radio on my way back home to Amsterdam, a bag full of publisher catalogs, promotional bookmarks and books on the passenger seat.