Clearly this isn’t a post about a rather large mountain. I doubt very much I would be saying I love you to that Everest if someone ever tried to drag me up it–not my idea of a good time. Not to say that I don’t love mountains, just that I’d rather avoid arduous treks which involve camping in sub zero temperatures and oxygen masks.
The Everest I love, and am thankful to is a small Turkish publishing house, which for several years has been translating popular/best selling novels by Turkish authors, yet to have been picked up by other global publishing houses.
When I first moved to Turkey, before the days of the Kindle (other e-readers are available), unless you brought over your own stash of English language novels with you, access was variable and definitely expensive. This may have been different in the tourist areas where hotels and pensions often had a bookshelf of left behind holiday novels, sadly quite often trashy and far too much Danielle Steel for my liking. But in Ankara and other cities supply was definitely limited and expensive. Most of the bookshops would stock the ‘classics’ which were similarly overpriced compared to them only costing £1 back home. There were some places which sold foreign language novels but I was loathe to pay the high price with added tax simply because they were an imported luxury.
Add to that, being in a new country and a keen reader, I wanted to be able to read Turkish novels but not being fluent this was virtually impossible. Of course the likes of Orhan Pamuk had been translated by Penguin and I was gifted a couple of his books at Christmas, but I never really got on with his style. I gave up on one book after he described a duvet as ‘undulating’, I simply don’t have the patience to trawl through endless pages of over description. Everyone assures me he is great so perhaps I should give him another go.
After moving to Istanbul I discovered my favourite bookshop in Turkey, which did not flinch at my usual bookshop activity of sitting on the floor trawling through the oft neglected bottom shelf. Pandora, in Büyük Parmakkapi Sokak (Big Finger/Thumb Door street, I love names like that! there is also a Küçük Parmakkapi Sokak–small finger…) just off Istiklal Caddesi. One floor was filled with an array of vastly over price books in English–to serve the textbook requirements of students from Bogaziçi University, but a good number of shelves were novels too. Pandora helped me to discover 2 things: First of all the epic novels of Yashar Kemal (darned macbook won’t let me have the Turkish letter for sh), which I was willing to pay the premium price of foreign imported novel for. Second was even better, the discovery of Remzi Kitapevi, a Turkish publishing house that had taken it upon itself to translate and publish Turkish novels being overlooked by foreign publishing houses. Being a homegrown product they were relatively cheap, even cheaper than the ‘classics’ which I’m sorry to say just reminded me of being force fed ‘literature’ at school, something which quietly killed off my love of reading whilst there.
Remzi, and their fabulous band of probably underpaid translators, introduced me to Büket Uzuner and a book to fall in love with–Mediterranean Waltz. The Original Turkish title was nowhere even close to this: Mavi Tuna Kirmirzi Ada, the names or nicknames of the two key characters. From then on it was a quest to find out if and when Remzi were publishing any other translations, or if other Turkish publish houses had followed suit, they love to copy a business over here, master of the copy cat.
Of course being back in the UK, I do also look for Turkish authors published by the global publishing houses such as Penguin. Thanks to them I have read Elif Safak (darn you macbook), and even seen her speak at the Hay Fest (pity I was too shy to get my hand up and had to endure dumbass questions from people interested in Turkey and the EU rather than her work and the talk she had just given). Bet you didn’t know she writes her novels first in English, has them translated rather than translates them herself, and then edits the translation which she says she finds “too modern” in the Turkish the translators uses.
But why Everest? Why do I love you Everest? Because they took over from where Remzi started. Now they are one of the main Turkish publishing houses translating and publishing popular Turkish novels into English and selling them for a decent price on Turkey. Meaning one of the first things I do when I get here is to drag the boys down to D&R and head straight for the one bookshelf right at the back where they stock the English books. Hidden between all the trashy best sellers and classics are my longed for Everest books. Everest continue to translate and publish Büket Uzuner’s novels, sadly the last two have been a disappointment. Ironically last year I bought her most recently translated novel, which turned out to be her first (Two Green Otters), and had I read that years ago I would not have pursued her books the way I do. This year, the choice was The Istanbullers, and Water: the adventures of misfit Defne Kaman. I opted for Water, and while the main story was definitely intriguing I found putting herself and her own book within the novel a tad egotistical. That said her descriptions of Kadiköy did make me want to go back there for a visit.
Everest were the first publisher to translate Ahmet Ümit, and I have now devoured 4 of his books thanks to them. Not my first choice really as his genre is the detective novel, though he weaves in the mystical and historical into his work–more successfully than Büket’a attempt in Water. Ahmet sends the reader round Konya and Sufism in the Dervish gate. This year his offering was When Pera Trees Whisper, which centres around Tarlabasi, Balat, Dolapdere and Beyoglu in Istanbul. Published only this year, it makes mention of the Gezi park riots of only one year earlier which makes it feel a bit rushed. He also seems to have gone down the line of putting himself in a cameo role within the novel. It’s done less obviously but still feels a wee bit unnecessary.
They don’t have a massive catalogue of translated novels, but through them I have also read Ayse Kulin, and am looking forward to discovery Orhan Kemal, Perigan Mağden, and Kürşat Başar. Though I may have to order those online as D&R are quite random in what they stock. It may be limited, but I am managing to discover more Turkish literature because of Everest than I would if there were only the global publishers to rely on. Some may criticise and say that they are only translating the best selling authors and popular novels rather than the really good stuff. Others might argue that if I really wanted to explore Turkish literature I should improve my Turkish, but to that I say I am sadly no linguist, I have always struggled to learn new languages. Besides, the translations are not poor, I have read worse when discovering Banana Yoshimoto my favourite Japanese author. Plus I doubt that I would get a good understanding of the book if I tried to read it in Turkish, I would miss so much that a person who has better Turkish and is a skilled translator can offer me. It’s not as if they are paying peanuts to a student with only rudimentary English who claims they can translate.
Everest I love you. Your books may not be available via Amazon (other online ebook sellers are available) for my Kindle, and perhaps that is why I love you even more. I am a bit of a Luddite and enjoy holding a proper book that I can pass on and say ‘hey, read this’. I love you because you give me access to books that larger corporations have overlooked, that I can take home and pass on to others curious about books they may not otherwise be given to read.