Winner of Turkey's most prestigious literary prize, The Other
Side of the Mountain traces the lives of three generations
of a Turkish family, from the end of the Ottoman Empire to
the 1990s. Running through the novel, like a tributary to
its source, is a daughter's journey back to her mother's student
days at Cambridge and later struggles to find a place in Atatürk's
new social order.
'This is a bold and poignant novel, a powerful evocation
not only of Turkish history through the twentieth century,
but also of world history and of the interweaving of nationalism
and ideology. The sentimental. The blending of the personal
and the documentary is superbly handled. This is a remarkable
and important novel.'
'Literature ascends to great heights when a novelist portrays
the spirit and history of a nation with such unforgettable
characters that the reader feels a native of that country.
The Other Side of the Mountain masterfully provides that universal
appeal. Erendiz Atasüi presents us with the soul of Turkey.
This is an outstanding achievement.'
THE LAST DECADE OF INNOCENCE (pp.11-15)
was born in the middle of the century. I can remember the
fifties, the years after the war, the world being rebuilt
under the piercing glare of the atom bomb, to the rhythms
of rumba, samba and cha-cha, backed by stifled voices echoing
from instruments of death.
I remember black heaps of coal on white snow. I remember
delivery boys bent under the heavy burden of their baskets
of coal. I remember their dilapidated shoes exposing bare
feet. I remember the cold classrooms, and living rooms where
only the area round the coal-fire stove was warm enough. I
remember voyages, boats that sailed to Istanbul from the Black
Sea town where my father was born. I remember the miserable
crowds crammed on the third-class decks, huddled together
with their sheep and goats.
I remember my dreams . . . about women in Christian Dior
evening gowns with low-cut necklines and bare shoulders, dancing
on golden, gleaming parquet floors of halls that I had never
seen but heard of, bathed in light flooding from crystal chandeliers
. . . the game of 'sex appeal' . . .
My parents used to dance the tango and the waltz at the balls
to mark the anniversaries of the Republic. Look at them .
. . can you pick them out among the images of the past? Can
you spot the men, with their feet encased in patent-leather
shoes, sweating in their tails, dancing with the utmost earnestness,
those provincial Kemalists? They used to look absurd seen
through the eyes of the Seventies, but now seem so tragic
. . .
(Is it not touching that they even took enjoyment so seriously,
just like your generation?)
While the grey, chilly passageway of the fifties was opening
out into the youthful spring of the sixties, I discovered
my parents' library. Feride, The Wren, so sensitive, so merry,
so sad with her broken heart, teaching deprived children in
the devastated villages of Anatolia; Rabia from Sineklibakkal,
with her heavenly honey-coloured eyes, so intense, so pious;
the graceful Handan, so independent, her young life trapped
and wrecked by the passion of two loves; the modern Züleyha
from The Ancient Disease, her marriage shattered; all these
heroines of Turkish fiction were the sisters of my lonely
childhood . . .
Then there were all those solemn-looking books in their white
paper covers, published by the Ministry of Culture during
the forties, translations of world classics . . . those wonderful
publications that disappeared completely during the fifties,
abandoned by the Ministry. The friends of my adolescence and
early adulthood: young Juliet yearning for her Romeo on her
balcony in Verona; Mary Stuart wrapped in her flame-red robe
walking recklessly towards the axe, rebellious and unbowed
to the end. Lady Macbeth is racked by a guilty conscience;
Eugenie Grandet, meek, timid, and withdrawn, waits in vain
for her lost love. Natasha's impetuous heart veers between
Pierre and Prince Andrei; Madame Bovary poisons herself in
her dull provincial France. Sonia commits crimes to satisfy
her passion for punishment. Nora slams the door behind her
and walks away to freedom, my lonely girlhood staring sadly
and wistfully after her, full of awed admiration. Nora, she
was my heroine . . . Nora, unyielding, determined, and strong
. . .
(You are getting it wrong, confused about the decades. Your
sense of yourself as a woman was not awake as yet, it was
only your sexual instinct beginning to resonate, timidly.
What impressed you when you first read The Doll's House was
only the pain of the broken marriage tie. You were only curious
about sexuality, yearned only for that.)
I had other heroes, socialist heroes. Life was so beautiful
during the sixties and into the mid-seventies, full of youth,
enthusiasm, sharing, and mutual aims.
(Friendship, the spirit of cooperation, folk songs . . .
they were like a great shawl spread over the incoherence and
incongruities hidden in the depths . . . why don't you accept
that you have never loved either the time or place you inhabited,
ever since your childhood ended?)
When was life reduced to a tedious trail through the unending
steppe? I did not feel well
though my body's loneliness was
at an end.
(Like parched petals, your body wilted. Caresses that ignored
all of your being, except for the flesh, injured it, burned
it up, wiped it out.)
My needs and wants warred against each other. How I wish
I had lived in Vienna during the Belle Époque, been one of
Freud's patients, danced at the Opera Ball with a lieutenant
of the Imperial Army and fallen in love with him. He would
have been shot in battle, and I would have wept, wept, wept...
(You refused to admit that you were buried up to your neck
in the common fate of woman. You closed your eyes tight, saw
neither mud nor marsh. You had to marry, had to become a faithful
wife and mother, that is what you thought. You were scared
to death of losing your innocence.)
My marriage had its moments of bliss. Probably it was the
hurricane of the eighties that wore it out. 'We thought you
were a happy couple.' The forbearance you saw was only compensation
for wounds we had inflicted on each other. Don't you realise
murders are being committed? I am weary of hearing reports
of friends being attacked or murdered, I am tired of attending
funerals, losing people, shedding tears, feeling angry, tired
of a life dogged by the fear of being killed... I am tired
of washing baby clothes, of marking exam scripts, and still
acting the perfect hostess to my husband's circle of friends.
I am sick of playing a part in the bloodstained comedy that
is being staged in this country.
I should have been in Paris in the twenties, painting pictures
in a garret. Hemingway would have fought with his wife in
the cafe below. Picasso, dressed in a picturesque sailor's
outfit, would have sworn vividly as he passed along the street
smelling of cheese, wine, and crepes, where I lived. I should
have been as delicate and free as my fellow countrywoman,
the painter, Hale Asaf... I should have hidden my bleeding
heart, like her...
And here I am, while the splintering bones of my grandmothers
ache in the deep soil of the steppe - those of my grandfathers
abandoned in Macedonia - an Anatolian ballad mourning within
me even as a gallant tune from Thrace strikes up jauntily.
any player who is aware that he or she
is acting, while on stage, cannot go on. Of course they are
aware of the play, but by a kind of simultaneous amnesia,
they forget what they are aware of. Later they say, 'I had
a part in a farce.' Acting operates with dual awareness -
one part of which is paramount. When both intensify and intersect,
at that very moment either you experience a surge of creativity
- like a thunderbolt - or the mind grows utterly dark. You
experienced nothing. You are recalling the emotions of a later
time and confusing them with earlier ones. In the years of
armed political anarchy, you were an ordinary housewife. And
what was your pastime? Teaching at the University!)
You did not dream of Paris and Vienna in the late seventies,
your only dream in the midst of the bloody comedy you were
living through, was a cup of coffee on a seashore where death
was not on parade.
Then the coup of 1980 struck! The world we had known till
then disintegrated. Another bloody comedy began to be performed
in place of the old one.
(All the shawls that had covered the incongruities, the incoherence,
were torn to shreds. Everyone stood naked. And as for me,
I saw myself for the first time clearly, and I saw all the
I slammed the door and walked straight ahead, like Nora;
fell in love like Anna Karenina - reunited with my missing
body - but did not sacrifice my life like her. I got up -
like Anne Dubreuilh -from where I had collapsed. I survived.
I made journeys, and lost my innocence completely. And only
then could I comprehend a world which had lost all innocence.
No one now can offer the excuse that their capacity for seeing
clearly was damaged by the blinding light of the atom bomb.
All the genies ever created have vanished into thin air! The
'iron curtain' has been torn down! You cannot hide any more
on either side of it, in a state of mock innocence. And what
is there left to fill the gaze? Exploitation, cruelty, and
I listened once more to the ballad within me, and returned
home to the steppe where the starved creatures dwell. I learnt
once more how to respect my parents' and my own generations,
and sometimes how to treat their passionate earnestness as
Now, I am free, for the first time.